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COVID-19: An increased threat to people with disabilities living in rural institutions

Guest blog post by Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural Knowledge Broker.


While rural America is already known to experience higher rates of health disparities than urban, state and local public health data underscore that the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will  continue to harm rural people. COVID-19 is making its way to some of the most rural states of the nation. Just this past week,  Alaska’s Kodiak Island Borough had its first diagnosed case of COVID-19 (April 16, 2020); Wyoming experienced its first fatalities (April 15, 2020); and South Dakota is managing 518 cases identified in a meat processing facility (April 17, 2020).  

Additionally, local and national news headline stories revealed the increased burden of the virus among residents and workers in group quarters such as prisons, nursing homes, and juvenile group homes (non-correctional). The high rates of infection and deaths at a long term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, caught the nation’s attention and refocused the public health response efforts on institutional settings.

Because people living in institutional settings are more likely to report disabilities than the general population and these settings are not evenly distributed between urban and rural areas across the United States, rural people with disabilities have a lot at stake in efforts to address the pandemic and outbreaks in institutional settings.

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