Rural areas in the U.S. are being hit especially hard by the coronavirus

coronavirus in rural areas
Photo via Bruce Tuten/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Coronavirus in rural areas is spreading faster than in urban centers in mid to late October, according to a New York Times report.  

Seven-day averages ending on Oct. 20 showed rural areas outpacing major metropolitan centers in both per capita coronavirus cases and deaths, continuing a trend that has been evident since late summer. 

In fact, as the Times reported, the majority of counties with the higher per capita case rates in the nation have fewer than 10,000 residents. States like North Dakota, South Dakota (where hundreds of thousands of people traveled for the Sturgis motorcycle rally in August), Kansas, and Montana have multiple counties on the nation’s current top 50 list. 

Each individual county might not have sizable numbers compared to major metro areas affected by the overall upward trend of cases nationally. But as NPR found in its Oct. 22 report, rural hospitals are feeling the strain from the coronavirus cases they do have. 

“Rural is not a refuge,” Keith Mueller, University of Iowa College of Public Health professor and Rural Policy Research institute director, told NPR. “These counties may be sparsely populated, but it also means that sparsely populated is not an assurance that spread won’t happen.”

In North Dakota, where cases are at record levels, hospital beds are in demand, and not all rural hospitals are sufficiently equipped to help patients battle the coronavirus with the same resources as their urban counterparts. 

“Our biggest challenge right now has been finding beds when we need them,” Beverly Vilhauer, the CEO of South Central Health in Wishek, N.D., about 100 miles from Bismark, told NPR. “What we’re finding out is that the bigger hospitals, they don’t have enough available staffed ICU beds.”

She explained that even though her hospital has two dozen beds, it can only staff about six to eight beds at a time. It also lacks an on-staff respiratory therapist to help with seriously ill patients who have trouble breathing. 

It’s even been more dire of late. The Times reported that earlier in October, hospitals didn’t have the capacity to take all who needed beds, turning to facilities in South Dakota and Montana to admit the overflow patients. 

The rural cases are contributing to the United States continuing to be one of the most pandemic-devastated nations in the world. Statista noted that as of Oct. 23, the U.S. had the highest daily increase of deaths (at 848), the ninth-highest deaths per capita rate (at 679.06 per million), and, of course, the total highest number of deaths for any nation, with more than 222,000.

Sources: New York Times, NPR, Statista

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