COVID Death Rates Higher in Rural Areas

COVID Death Rates Higher in Rural Areas A nurse speaks with a patient. A nurse in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Three Rivers Asante Medical Center speaks with a patient in Grants Pass, Oregon. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 04 October 2021 07:33 AM

COVID-19 is killing rural Americans at more than twice the rate of urban residents, USA Today reported.

Although the initial COVID surge missed much of rural America, countryside mortality rates began to outpace those in metropolitan areas as the virus spread before vaccinations became available, according to the Rural Policy Research Institute.

Nearly 1 in 434 rural Americans have died of COVID, compared to 1 in 513 urban residents, the institute’s data shows, USA Today reported.

Now, rural mortality rates are more than double urban rates and accelerating quickly, USA Today said.

Health experts say the rural population tends to be older, heavier, poorer and less vaccinated than in metropolitan areas. There are also limited options for medical care as well as staffing shortages in rural areas, where 15% of the overall U.S. population lives.

September COVID incidence rates were roughly 54% higher in rural areas than elsewhere, said Fred Ullrich, a University of Iowa College of Public Health research analyst who co-authored the Rural Policy Research Institute's report.

Rural counties had higher rates of COVID than their urban counterparts in 39 states.

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

"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."

The Daily Yonder reported that about 41% of rural America was vaccinated compared to 53% of urban America, as of Sept. 23.

Rural areas that suffered from limited supplies and low access to vaccines early on — 181 rural hospitals have closed since 2005 — now are affected by vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and politics, USA Today reported.

One example showed that 26% of Missouri's Newton County residents were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 27. County health department administrator Larry Bergner said interest in COVID-19 shots typically increases only after someone dies or gets seriously ill within a hesitant person's social circle.

The situation has been made more dire by the inability to transfer patients out of rural hospitals to higher levels of specialty care at regional or urban health centers due to the overload of patients, USA Today reported.

"It's crazy, just crazy. It’s unacceptable," Morgan said. "From what I’m seeing, that mortality gap is accelerating."

Before COVID, rural Americans had 20% higher overall death rates than people living in urban areas. That was due to their lower rates of insurance, higher rates of poverty and more limited access to health care, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

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