COVID-19

In some isolated rural areas, COVID-19 is hitting hard

Blake Farmer Nov 13, 2020
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In Tennessee, the National Guard has resumed running weekend drive-thru testing sites in rural communities, where COVID-19 testing is sometimes only available at the local health department. Blake Farmer/WPLN News
COVID-19

In some isolated rural areas, COVID-19 is hitting hard

Blake Farmer Nov 13, 2020
Heard on:
In Tennessee, the National Guard has resumed running weekend drive-thru testing sites in rural communities, where COVID-19 testing is sometimes only available at the local health department. Blake Farmer/WPLN News
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The coronavirus made its mark first in densely populated parts of the United States. And after seven months, rural communities are seeing a rise in cases.

The 13,000 residents of Grundy County, Tennessee, are fairly isolated. Its scenic mountains are home to parks with names like Savage Gulf and Fiery Gizzard. Until recently, residents felt that distance protected them from COVID-19.

“Folks got relaxed,” Mayor Michael Brady said. “They felt like life’s coming back to normality. And, of course, that’s really not the case right now.”

Grundy County has gone from basically no COVID-19 to seven or eight new cases a day — a per capita rate higher than Tennessee’s largest cities.

At first, residents had to drive to another county to get tested. Now the local health department can do it, but the hours are limited.

“At times I’ve had to deploy the sheriff’s department up there to navigate traffic,” Brady said. “They’ll be lined up in the road.”

Across the country, rural counties from South Dakota to South Carolina are now seeing spikes. 

And yet the mindset that distance is enough defense persists, said Jacy Warrell of the Rural Health Association of Tennessee.

“Business as usual is kind of the mantra in a lot of our rural communities,” she said. “There’s still this perception that the spread of COVID is more of an urban issue.”

Rural residents are also facing the pandemic with more risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high rates of obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and heart disease, according to Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s health commissioner.

“So they are not only more likely to contract the disease, but to have worse outcomes,” she said.

And when people get severely ill, help may not be as close as it used to be. In the last decade, more than 120 rural hospitals have closed nationwide, according to the American Hospital Association

Brady, the mayor in Grundy County, Tennessee, said his area doesn’t even have an urgent care.

“We just have the health department,” he said. “Rural Grundy County desperately needs a medical facility.” 

For now, residents are traveling to other counties if they become seriously ill. And some of those hospitals are starting to reach capacity.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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