Map of U.S. with markers showing where each reader is writing from.

On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their Covid-19 guidelines and restrictions, indicating that in many cases, fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks.

A little over a week later in anticipation of Memorial Day, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky spoke in a White House news conference: “If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day.” For those who are not vaccinated, CDC guidance around mask-wearing and social distancing stayed the same. If you are unvaccinated “you remain at risk of infection,” warned Walensky.

While social benefits have joined health benefits on the list of reasons to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, and current CDC data shows that (as of June 9) 51.7% of the total U.S. population has had at least one dose, rural communities are lagging behind urban communities by seven and a half percentage points when it comes to vaccination rates.

Again, Daily Yonder readers weigh-in on their own rural vaccination experiences.

(Plus, check out a list of vaccination resources for rural communities and community leaders at the bottom of this article.)

Pulaski, Tennessee on a map.

Allen Stanton
Pulaski, Tennessee

We found out we were expecting our second child about a week after everything closed down. Navigating the lockdown felt like a tense balancing act, which was further complicated when we were needed back in the office. There was a line of questions that presented no right answer: Should we send our toddler back to daycare? Can we realistically do our jobs if she’s not in daycare? What risks are we exposing ourselves to if she goes to daycare? How can we mitigate the risks of being in an office? My wife’s OB (who is also our family practitioner), did her best to help us weigh the risks, but one day she simply leveled with us, “There is no perfect decision.”

Allen Stanton's daughters
The Stanton’s elder daughter met her new baby sister for the first time in October.

Our baby was born in October, and we were fortunate to have a long maternity/paternity leave that lasted through the holidays. When we went back to work, we were dealing with a lack of childcare (most places around here don’t take newborns), the question of whether to send a 3-month old to childcare at all, the cost of hiring babysitters, and the stress of caring for an infant while trying to work. Some of these decisions were ultimately made for us—we had been on months-long waitlists since our second child was born, so we had to hire babysitters, who watched her half a day. The other half of the day, one of us had our baby in the office. The toddler was still going to preschool. It was less than ideal.

I was offered the Moderna vaccine fairly early, towards the end of January. There was an extra shot available somewhere, and it was going to go to waste. I got a phone call, and was told to be there in 20 minutes. I had the baby with me, but my wife graciously let me drop her off. The OB nurse that was in the delivery room when my daughter was born (and used my phone to take pictures of those first few minutes!) checked me in. When I was in my post-shot waiting period, I told her that it felt like a huge weight was lifted. Finally, there was one piece of our lives that was a bit easier.

My wife was able to get her shot around the time I got my second shot. She ended up having an allergic reaction to the second dose, but was fine after a couple of hours in the ER. It’s a community hospital, and I’m proud to serve on their board, so there was never much concern.

After we got the shot, a lot of our stressors fell away. We know there are still dangers, and we don’t take huge risks. We were able to find some trusted and safe childcare for our baby. We were able to focus more on our jobs. Grandparents and in-laws have been able to come visit. Since we work for the same college, my wife and I can now occasionally grab an outdoor lunch or coffee without children

Like other rural communities, there’s a lot vaccine hesitancy. My center is partnering with our college’s nursing department and the Tennessee Department of Health to try and increase vaccine registrations. We’re also offering vaccine sites at rural congregations. We’ve mounted a pretty intense media campaign to try and encourage people to go get vaccinated. I know that some of the low-vaccination numbers are due to access, but I worry that a lot of people who have yet to get the vaccine won’t be persuaded to do so.

Washington Island, Wisconsin on a map.

Deb Wisniewski 
Washington Island, Wisconsin

I live in a very small community (about 700 full-time residents) on an island in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan, a half hour ferry ride from the mainland. We had a significant spike in positive cases from mid-December until the end of January—two beloved residents died as a result—and our community health group worked with our county public health people to organize two “shot clinics” for residents three weeks apart, with about 260 folks getting both their shots here.

Lots of volunteers were involved. My husband was able to take advantage of the shot clinics but my daughter and I couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. Instead, we took a ferry and drove about an hour one way to the closest Walgreens. She and I both had side effects for about two days after the shot, but as I like to say “it’s better than dying!”

This year I know that people are cautiously optimistic now that a large percentage of the island has received their vaccinations. Our tiny Art & Nature Center is planning to re-open the nature room in a modified way (last year, we only opened the art room, with a limited capacity), the performing arts center is planning outdoor events every summer weekend, and one of the churches is starting in-person, indoor services (with strict rules and limited capacity) after a year of services while sitting in cars. On a personal level, many of us are looking forward to seeing our summer visitors and friends again now that we are vaccinated.

Dewitt County, Texas on a map.

Pam Culpepper
DeWitt County, Texas

I am glad to be vaccinated. DeWitt County Emergency Management, in collaboration with the National Guard, held a drive-through on March 31 with a second shot on April 10, both at the local Volunteer Fire Department. Texas has no mask mandate and very few in the area are wearing masks.

Victoria County, our closest metro area, has a high level of risk. My husband and I have to go there for some medical procedures, but we limit our visits to the hospital or doctor’s office. Thankfully, my brother and his partner are also vaccinated and they are able to come out to the acreage and help us with brush, fences, and so on.

Resources for Rural Communities and Community Leaders

A number of organizations have developed resources for rural communities and community leaders to help share information about Covid-19 vaccines.

From the National Rural Health Association (NRHA):

From Health Action Alliance:

From Ad Council:

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