COVID-19 is killing rural Americans at 'twice the rate' of their urban counterparts: report

COVID-19 is killing rural Americans at 'twice the rate' of their urban counterparts: report

During the 2020 spring, the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting New York City especially hard. But that was before the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. Now, according to Kaiser Health News reporter Lauren Weber, it is Rural America — where people are less likely to be vaccinated — that is seeing the most deaths from the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"Rural Americans are dying of COVID at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer and less vaccinated," Weber reports. "While the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths skipped over much of Rural America, where roughly 15% of Americans live, non-metropolitan mortality rates quickly started to outpace those of metropolitan areas as the virus spread nationwide before vaccinations became available, according to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute."

Weber adds, "Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 434 rural Americans have died from COVID, compared with roughly 1 in 513 urban Americans, the institute's data shows."

The Rural Policy Research Institute has been drawing heavily on COVID-19 data from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. According to Hopkins, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 4.7 million people worldwide — and more than 695,000 of them are in the United States, where far-right extremists have been pushing bogus anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories.

Weber notes, however, that lower vaccination rates aren't the only thing that is making COVID-19 so deadly in rural areas of the United States.

"The high incidence of cases and low vaccination rates don't fully capture why mortality rates are so much higher in rural areas than elsewhere," Weber explains. "Academics and officials alike describe rural Americans' greater rates of poor health and their limited options for medical care as a deadly combination. The pressures of the pandemic have compounded the problem by deepening staffing shortages at hospitals, creating a cycle of worsening access to care."

Weber also points out that "the overload of COVID patients in hospitals has undermined a basic tenet of rural health care infrastructure: the ability to transfer patients out of rural hospitals to higher levels of specialty care at regional or urban health centers."

"Pre-pandemic, rural Americans had 20% higher overall death rates than those who live in urban areas due to their lower rates of insurance, higher rates of poverty and more limited access to health care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2019 National Center for Health Statistics," Weber explains.

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