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Oklahoma State University

Coronavirus concerns high in rural areas

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Rural population density may delay the spread of COVID-19 but not eliminate the threat, officials say.

Health officials are warning rural communities to be just as cautious as more densely populated areas in their response to the spread of COVID-19.

A lower rate of person-to-person transmission of the novel coronavirus might result in a delay of infection, but it’s still highly likely to occur regardless.

“With this virus, research has shown that you might still be an asymptomatic carrier and not show any signs of sickness,” said Megan Monteith, Oklahoma State University Extension area specialist in health disparities. “It’s going to affect most of us at some point. … Living in a remote area doesn’t guarantee that you won’t come into contact. It just might not show up right away.

“We know that community spread is here already, and no one is immune from it,” said Jamie Dukes, public information manager at the state Department of Health. “It’s important that everyone in the state follow social-distancing guidance regardless of their location.”

The spread of infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which was found in China at the end of 2019, is forecast to pick up momentum across the United States. Cases in Oklahoma were first identified in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas, as well as Payne County. By mid-March the number of cases nationwide that had been identified by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other U.S. government agencies had already crested 3,000. At the same time, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency and called for Oklahoma agencies to establish work-from-home policies for employees.

The agricultural business community has been receptive to guidance issued by federal and state health departments. The Oklahoma Wheat Commission, for example, is expecting many of its field days will be canceled, Executive Director Mike Schulte said. And at the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, spokeswoman Chancey Hanson said animal health companies have been canceling planned visits with producers.

“The farmers that I’ve talked with definitely don’t feel invincible, and they’re heeding the social warnings,” Schulte said.

People who live in remote rural areas have reduced exposure to crowded mass transit and venues such as retail shopping malls and business office districts. However, life in the country does not eliminate the need to gathering at church, schools and sports events. Business dealings may shift in scale or type – managing a cattle auction instead of a furniture store, for example – but social contact can only be delayed, not eliminated entirely.

Monteith said some of those needs can be shifted online to Facetime and other social media platforms.

“Keep up with the CDC guidance and continue to avoid groups,” Monteith said. “But as you do that, it’s also very important to check up on your neighbors. If you’re not in a high-risk category yourself, give your elderly neighbors a call and ask them if you can help deliver something.

“We’re all in this together. Take care of yourself and take care of your community,” she said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Brus | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-6792 | BBrus@okstate.edu

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