According to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute, COVID-19 is killing rural Americans at twice the rate of urban dwellers. Sadly, many health experts are bracing for the gap to widen further. Medical care tends to shrink for the older, poorer, and less vaccinated population.
Rural Americans Are Suffering More From COVID-19
Rural Americans comprise between 15% to 20% of the total US population. The initial coronavirus surge largely ignored the countryside, and instead focused on the denser urban areas. Within a year into the pandemic, the mortality rates began to trend inversely.
The RPRI data showed that since the start of the pandemic, 1 in 434 rural Americans died from COVID-19 compared to 1 in 513 for city residents. Even as the availability of vaccines became widespread, rural mortality rates are now twice as high as metro folk.
Now, 7-day averages for rural Americans are now around 0.8 deaths per 100,000 population. In contrast, urban Americans posted 0.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Unlike their city counterparts, the vaccine rollout has yet to create an impact on rural Americans’ COVID death rates.
COVID Incidence Rates Also Higher In Rural Areas
COVID-19 rates are also going up in the countryside. Last September, infection rates in rural areas posted a 54% increase compared to other areas.
This is according to Fred Ullrich, a University of Iowa College of Public Health research analyst. In addition, rural counties in 29 states reported higher rates of Covid than their urban counterparts.
Alan Morgan, head of the National Rural Health Association, said that little is being done addressing America’s rural areas. “There is a national disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to Covid in rural America.
We’ve turned many rural communities into kill boxes. And there's no movement towards addressing what we're seeing in many of these communities, either among the public or among governing officials,” he said.
Higher Cases, Lower Vaccination
Even if rural Americans tend to have higher cases and lower vaccine rates, it still doesn’t fully explain the higher mortality rates. Many health officials point out that rural Americans are more likely to be in poor health.
They also have lesser access to medical care. Add to that the growing problem of a lack of medical staff in the countryside. These combinations likely contribute to the worsening situation.
Many experts agree that vaccinations remain the most effective frontline defense against COVID-19’s serious complications. At present, 53% of urban Americans already have at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Meanwhile, rural Americans only have a 41% completion rate. It’s not necessarily the country folk’s fault. Limited supplies along with the remoteness of vaccine centers help make the process more difficult.
However, vaccine hesitancy, conflicting information, and politics are also present in the mix. Often, interest in getting vaccines spikes up when a relative or acquaintance dies.
Overloaded Hospital Systems Also Affect Rural Americans’ COVID Death Rates
In addition, overwhelmed hospital systems across the country often leave COVID-19 stricken rural Americans in the lurch.
When smaller rural health centers need help dealing with patients, they usually transfer the more serious cases to regional or urban hospitals. However, with all centers at full capacity, nobody can accommodate rural patients.
“We literally have email Listservs of rural chief nursing officers or rural CEOs sending up an SOS to the group, saying, ‘We’ve called 60 or 70 hospitals and can’t get this heart attack or stroke patient or surgical patient out and they’re going to get septic and die if it goes on much longer,’” said John Henderson, president, and CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.
Watch the KTVB news video reporting on how Idaho coroners are handling the growing number of COVID-19 deaths:
What can the US do to help rural Americans get more attention from the government? What support do country folk need to lower their COVID death rates?
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