By Michelle A. Williams, Bizu Gelaye and Emily M. Broad Leib: For More Info, Go Here…
Over the past few weeks, our urban centers have scrambled to mobilize in response to the mounting covid-19 cases. But be forewarned: It’s only a matter of time before the virus attacks small, often forgotten towns and rural counties. And that’s where this disease will hit hardest.
Covid-19 is infiltrating more of the country with each passing day. Colorado, Utah and Idaho are grappling with sudden clusters in counties popular with out-of-state tourists. Cases are also skyrocketing in Southern states such as Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. So far, sparsely populated communities have been better insulated from the spread. But since no place in the United States is truly isolated, there’s simply no outrunning this virus. Every community is at imminent risk.
Rural communities could fare far worse than their urban and suburban counterparts. Rural populations are older on average, with more than 20 percent above the age of 65. Rural populations also tend to have poorer overall health, suffering from higher rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and lung conditions, all of which put them at greater risk of becoming severely ill — or even dying — should they become infected.
Rural areas also already suffer from a rural mortality penalty, with a disparity in mortality rates between urban and rural areas that has been climbing since the 1980s. Chronic financial strain and the erosion of opportunity have contributed to “deaths of despair” as well as a rise in conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. Add in prolonged social distancing and the economic downturn, and these trends will surely worsen.
Long before the novel coronavirus emerged as a threat, America’s rural hospitals were already in dire financial straits. About 1 in 4 are vulnerable to being shuttered, with 120 having closed in the past decade. With the pandemic looming, many of these health systems have been forced to cancel elective procedures and non-urgent services such as physical therapy and lab tests, which in some cases account for half of their revenue.