Coronavirus has mostly been an urban problem in America. Approximately one-fifth of the cases reported nationwide have been in New York City. But Rural America is far from immune. COVID-19 has been on the rise in smaller communities where, through politicians and right-wing media, the virus is often downplayed. Politico points out:
Trump and red state governors for weeks have fairly bragged about how large parts of the farm belt have escaped the ravages of the virus without the enforced shelter-in-place policies common on both coasts… But now, cases are erupting, threatening a local population that doesn’t always have easy access to the same health care as more urban areas.
The bump in coronavirus cases is most pronounced in states without stay at home orders. Oklahoma saw a 53% increase in cases over the past week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over same time, cases jumped 60% in Arkansas, 74% in Nebraska, and 82% in Iowa. South Dakota saw a whopping 205% spike.
And some of the more isolated areas in these states are seeing even bigger jumps. The Washington Post cites Delaware County, Oklahoma as an example, “Its population is about 42,000, with 57 people per square mile. From April 7 to 14, it saw a 446 percent jump in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.”
Many of these rural areas are also big Republican strongholds or these days it’s probably safe to call them Trump strongholds. That often influences the type of media people consume. And Politico writes when you add that together with limited broadband some of these folks “may also have limited access to information, leaving them exposed to dangerous disinformation.”
In such a vacuum, “radio—farm radio, talk radio—becomes really important,” Henning-Smith says. And listening, like social media, has its risks: “They might be getting really bad information. People can think this is a hoax, that it won’t affect them.” Until it does.
Politico cites South Bend, Washington, a town of just 1,637.
Until March 13, the local buzz was that the coronavirus threat was “being hyped up to make Trump look bad,” longtime resident Jan Davis says.
When Trump writes things like “Liberate Michigan,” “Virginia,” and “Minnesota” it only feeds into the idea that there is something to liberate people from.
Misinformation and hysteria from the president aren’t the only things negatively impacting the more isolated parts of the country. Political analyst Jared Yates Sexton has been writing extensively on the issues rural America faces relating to coronavirus:
“I come from a small, rural town. I’ve watched it destroyed by corporations and Republican policies. My town and others like it are in incredible danger with the pandemic and lack the infrastructure and healthcare and journalism to prevent a mass tragedy.“
Now, with the pandemic racing into their communities, rural Americans are poised to suffer unbelievable tragedies.