Top 10 Ag Stories of 2021: No. 4

One Year After COVID-19 Shutdown, Life Returns to Almost Normal in Rural Areas

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Some people in rural areas took advantage of drive-through vaccinations being offered to help fight COVID-19, such as this one in Texas. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Thomas)

Each year, DTN publishes our choices for the top 10 ag news stories of the year, as selected by DTN analysts, editors and reporters. Today, we continue the countdown with No. 4: Life returning to almost normal in rural America one year after the COVID-19 shutdown.

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LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Rural America was hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020 -- health care was taxed, supply chains were disrupted and agriculture events were canceled or forced into the virtual world. Though the virus continued to remain part of rural life in 2021, rural Americans adapted in a way that only could be characterized as the Great Resignation.

Though COVID was rarely the main subject of our news coverage at DTN in 2021, its global influence still was tied to many of our stories this year, ranging from labor shortages to supply chain disruptions. The virus marched on as a factor in the background of rural life. The arrival of the delta variant and the omicron later in the year has kept rural Americans on alert.

Rural America started the year with relatively high infection rates in January. According to USA Facts, rural areas reported a 2021 high for new weekly infections during the week of Jan. 9 at 232,239. By the week of June 26, rural infections fell to just 13,983.

The number of infections in rural areas began to rise during the second week of July, hitting a summer peak of 209,777 during the week of Sept. 18. On the week of Nov. 27, the number of rural infections hit its lowest number since Aug. 7 at 100,462. On the week of Dec. 4 rural areas saw a spike to 148,275 cases. By the week of Dec. 18, the number fell to 127,757.

Packing plants continued to adjust to their vaccination programs, and USDA implemented a federal government vaccination mandate.

Many hospitals across the country began requiring health care workers to get vaccinated, which led to employee shortages in some regions. Rural hospitals hesitated to do the same, as they faced already-tight staffing scenarios.

A survey by the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, for example, found rural hospitals not requiring workers to get vaccinated would lose an estimated 20% of their staff if they set a mandate, http://worh.org/…. Out of 33 rural hospitals surveyed, 11 did not implement mandates. Some rural Wisconsin hospitals with mandates reported up to 4% of staff resigned as an alternative to vaccination.

Many agriculture events forced to the virtual world in 2020 peeked out from behind the mask in 2021 by hosting virtual/in-person hybrid events.

Though vaccine availability accelerated in 2021, rural Americans were more hesitant than their metropolitan counterparts to vaccinate. (See https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

According to Farm Market iD, now a DTN company, a 2021 crop outlook survey found rural concerns about the virus had shifted last spring.

In 2020, the Farm Market iD survey found 42.8% of farmers said they were concerned about the effect of the virus on themselves personally and 55.7% of farmers were worried about the effect on their businesses.

A 2021 survey found 27.5% of farmers are extremely or very worried about the effect of the virus on themselves personally, while 33.3% were extremely or very worried about the effect on their businesses. The 2021 survey found 72.9% of farmers were willing to take a vaccine once it became available.

Ag groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation spread the word about the benefits of vaccination among its millions of members.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Dec. 16, 46.8% of rural people were completely vaccinated, compared to 59.5% of the metropolitan population.

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Editor's Note:

You can find No. 10 in DTN's top 10 list at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

You can find No. 9 in DTN's top 10 list at https://www.dtnpf.com/…

You can find No. 8 in DTN's top 10 list at https://www.dtnpf.com/…

You can find No. 7 in DTN's top 10 list at https://www.dtnpf.com/…

You can find No. 6 in DTN's top 10 list at

https://www.dtnpf.com/…

You can find No. 5 in DTN's top 10 list at

https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley