Rural residents are more vulnerable and have seen higher COVID-19 infection rates, according to recent research released by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis. During a media call Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack shared that the researchers found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4% higher than in urban areas.
“The virus has hit all of us but hit rural America in a very specific and hard way,” Vilsack says. He attributes this to a number of factors including lack of health insurance, lack of access to health facilities and a higher percentage of underlying conditions.
A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS - Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.
To assist, USDA announced an investment of $42.3 million to help rural residents in 38 states gain access to health care and educational opportunities as part of 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Vilsack says these investments will help “millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives.” He estimates 5 million people will benefit from the funding.
In Georgia, the Morehouse School of Medicine Inc. will use a $997,194 grant to purchase interactive telecommunications, distance learning and telemedicine equipment. Equipment will be installed in service hubs in two counties in west-central Georgia. It will be used to provide a variety of health care services to residents in underserved rural areas of nine counties across the state. These services include mental health and substance abuse treatment and counseling; clinical services; referrals for specialty care; health education and career development to schools; and chronic disease diagnosis, treatment and management, including COVID-19.
The Fall Mountain Regional School District in New Hampshire is receiving a $995,158 grant. It will provide distance learning services in Cheshire and Sullivan counties. Distance learning will enable schools to share instructional resources, provide cultural literacy and career pathways programs for students, and provide professional development opportunities. The grant will also help the district respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oklahoma’s Okmulgee Public School District is being awarded a $756,760 grant to provide distance learning services in Creek and Okmulgee counties. Schools will expand course offerings and provide professional development opportunities. The schools will use videoconferencing and interactive display panels to expand the curriculum, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses. The equipment this grant provides will help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by enabling students to participate in virtual field trips and join classes from home.