‘Social distancing’ still crucial for rural America, which invented it

By Alan Guebert | Apr 12, 2020

“Less than 14% of the nation’s population is over 65 years,” noted Megan L. Srinivas in the April 7 Des Moines Register, “but this group represents over 18% of the population in rural areas.”

Those numbers, explains Srinivas, “an infectious disease doctor living in rural Iowa,” have her “terrified … and shaken.” The reason is simple; she knows the dark math behind them.

For example, if rural Iowa or rural anywhere gets hit by COVID-19 as hard as New York or Chicago, it will be more lethal because while rural America is home to 20% of all Americans, it contains only 9% of the nation’s hospitals, 2% of its hospital beds, and 1% of its intensive care beds.

And that’s the good news.

The bad news is the numbers get worse. Iowa, for example, “has only 280 ventilators for its more than 3 million residents.” If current predictions hold, “up to 150,000 Iowans may need those mere 280 ventilators over the next 18 months.”

Note she said months, not weeks.

Age isn’t the only sweet spot in rural America for COVID-19. We country dwellers are poorer than our metro counterparts and many of our jobs — whether well-paying, average or minimum wage in schools, pubs, restaurants or grain elevators — are now gone, going or facing cutbacks in paid hours.

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