Newly released coronavirus reports suggest an alarming trend for small-town America: While overall new cases of COVID-19 are abating in major urban hotspots such as New York City, the per-capita rate of infections is actually increasing sharply among America’s rural areas.
The new reports coincide with some grim new projections from the website HealthData (operated by the University of Washington and funded by the Gates Foundation), which revised its projected total COVID-19-related deaths from more than 72,000 by early August to more than 134,000.
“Rural towns that one month ago were unscathed are suddenly hot spots,” reports The New York Times. “It is rampaging through nursing homes, meatpacking plants and prisons, killing the medically vulnerable and the poor, and new outbreaks keep emerging in grocery stores, supermarkets or factories, an ominous harbinger of what a full reopening of the economy could bring.”
In addition to the potential death toll, this is a particularly disturbing development as it pertains to food supplies.
Right now, nearly 20 meat processing plants and at least five food-processing factories that have temporarily shuttered as a result of an outbreak of the coronavirus. The vast majority of these exist in small towns in middle American states from Texas all the way north to South Dakota. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, “The spread of the virus is affecting some of the country’s largest agribusiness companies, including Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, Conagra, Hormel, and Kraft Heinz.”
Unfortunately, data suggests that the wave of COVID-19 cases across rural America will only intensify. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently issued a report noting that while rural communities have fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people than urban areas, the rates of both coronavirus cases and deaths have surged at a much faster pace in more rural counties in the last two weeks.
“The average number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people rose 125 percent in non-metro counties—or those that are largely rural, according to the analysis—and by 68 percent in metro counties between April 13 and 27, according to the analysis,” says U.S. News and World Report. “Deaths rose 169 percent in more rural areas and 113 percent in the more urban counties, reaching respective rates of 4.4 and 17 per 100,000.”
Of course, the news arrives right when many states are already reopening their economies and lifting stay-at-home recommendations, and millions of Americans are ready to get back to work and return to their regular lives.
Is it too soon to do that? Well, no one knows for sure.
While some state capitals are seeing vocal protests demanding the opening of state governments, this stark new data suggests that rural America may soon need to implement the same shelter-in-place and social-distancing guidelines that effectively abated the outbreaks in big cities. And if rural Americans can’t go back to work, there’s one thing we know: it won’t be a good thing for the country as a whole. And for some expert-backed guidance for navigating the pandemic, see these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus.