Ag Policy Blog

COVID Across Rural America

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A COVID-19 vaccination at Brenham, Texas, earlier this year. Vaccine rates in rural America remain below urban areas. Kaiser Health News cites that death rates in rural areas right now are twice the rate of urban areas of the country. (Photo by Elaine Thomas)

Rural Americans are dying from COVID at more than twice the rate of urban Americans right now, and the death rate for rural Americans is accelerating.

Those statements come from Kaiser Health News, highlighting data from the Rural Policy Research Institute. Since the beginning of August, the death rate from COVID has steadily climbed, but the rate of death in rural areas of the country has increased at more than twice the rate of metropolitan areas. On Aug. 1, the non-metro death rate stood at .13 per 100,000 people. That rate has since climbed to .85. Over the same period, the metro death rate has gone from .09 per 100,000 people to .41.…

The Daily Yonder reports infection rates in urban and rural America were running parallel until the first week of August when rural rates began to soar. Rural infection rates per 100,000 population are now at 393.9 in rural areas but at 232.9 in metro areas.

On the positive side of the ledger, after cases peaked in mid-September, the Daily Yonder reported that new infections fell 14% in rural counties in the last week of September, falling from 210,000 new cases mid-month down to 181,000 new cases last week. "It was the biggest single-week drop in the number of new cases since winter."…

Kaiser noted COVID rates in September were 54% higher in rural areas than metro areas. In 39 states, rural counties had higher rates of COVID than metro areas.

"There is a national disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to COVID in rural America," Alan Morgan, head of the National Rural Health Association, told Kaiser. "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."

Kaiser said the overload of COVID cases has undermined rural health care as the capacity to transfer patients out of rural hospitals to regional care centers is becoming limited.

"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.

Looking at vaccination rates, the New York Times cites 56% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Still, 30 states have vaccination rates below the national average, reflecting a high percentage of rural states in those numbers. Within rural states, there are wide gaps between vaccination rates in the rural and urban areas.…

Again, looking at the glass half-full, the Daily Yonder noted vaccinations the week of Sept. 23, were nearly 450,000, the highest in rural areas since early June. The number of vaccinations in rural America has started to jump in mid-August. But the gap between rural and urban vaccinations was nearly 12%, and the gap between rural and urban vaccination rates continues to grow.…

Centers for Disease Control data on vaccinations:…

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