Rural Midwestern hospitals are struggling to cope with the increase in the virus


WESSINGTON SPRINGS, SD – Rural Jerold County in South Dakota has not seen a single case of coronavirus for more than two months, spanning June through August. But over the past two weeks, the rate of new cases per person has risen to one of the highest in the country.

“All of a sudden it bumped into, and as I did, it exploded,” said Dr. Tom Dean, one of the three doctors working in the county.

As the brunt of the virus In the upper Midwest and Northern Plains, The severity of outbreaks in rural communities became a focus. Doctors and health officials in small towns worry that the infection may overwhelm communities with limited medical resources. And many say they are still facing situations about wearing masks Hardening along political lines And the common misconception is that rural areas are immune to the spread of infection.

Dean took to write a column for the local weekly, True Dakotan, to offer his directions. In recent weeks, nearly one in 37 people in his county had tested positive for the virus.

He destroyed the elderly home in Wessington Springs where his parents lived, killing his father. The six deaths in the community may seem insignificant compared to the thousands who died in cities, but they pushed the county of nearly 2,000 people into a death rate nearly four times higher than the national average.

Rural counties across Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana sit in between The highest in the nation For an individual’s new cases within the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. In general, the country topped 8 million confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the university census on Friday; The true number of infections is believed to be much higher because many people have not been tested.

In counties with a population of less than a few thousand, the number of cases per capita can skyrocket even with small-scale outbreaks – and losses hit near homes in close-knit towns.

“One or two people who are infected can really make a big difference when you have a grocery store or gas station,” said Misty Rodebusch, medical director at a network of rural health clinics in South Dakota called Horizon Health Care. “There is such a multiplier effect.”

Wessington Springs is a hub for generations of farmers and ranchers who work the surrounding land. Residents send their children to the same school they attended and keep cultural performances such as Shakespeare Park and the Opera House.

They trust Dean, who for 42 years took care of everything from bone fractures to high blood pressure. When a patient requires a higher level of care, the family doctor usually relies on transportation to a hospital 130 miles (209 kilometers) away.

With the number of cases rising, hospitals in rural communities are having trouble finding beds. Dean said a recent request to transfer a patient with COVID-19 “not very sick but beautiful” was denied for several days, until the patient’s condition worsened.

“We are proud of what we got,” he said of the 16-bed hospital, “but it was a struggle.”

The outbreak that killed Dean’s only nursing home father in Westington Springs forced a statewide application for nurses.

Limited resources and high death rates afflicted other small communities. Blair Tomchic, interim director of the health department in Toole County, Montana, has expressed concern that small hospitals in the area will need to start caring for dangerous COVID-19 patients after cases soar to the highest per capita in the country. According to Johns Hopkins researchers, one in 28 people in the county tested positive in the past two weeks.

“It’s very difficult when your resources are scarce – you live in a small rural county,” she said.

The infection can also spread quickly in places like Toole County, with most people shopping at the same grocery store, attending the same school, or worshiping in a few churches.

“The family dinner on Sunday is killing us,” Tomchik said.

Even as the outbreak threatens to spiral out of control, doctors and health officials say they are struggling to convince people of the severity of the virus, which has taken months to come to strength.

“It’s like receiving a blizzard warning and then a snowstorm not hitting that week, so next time people say they won’t worry about it,” said 67-year-old author Kathleen Taylor. He lives in Redfield, South Dakota.

In parts of the country decorated with flags in support of President Donald Trump, people have taken their cues to wear masks from his arrogant attitude towards the virus. Dean has a direct link between Trump’s approach and the lack of precautions in his hometown of 956 people.

“There is a foolish notion that wearing masks or refusing is a kind of political statement,” Dean said. “It seriously interfered with our ability to control it.”

Even amid the troop surge, the district’s Republican governors were reluctant to take action. North Dakota Governor Doug Borghum recently said, “We are caught in the middle of a COVID storm” because Raising advisory risk levels in counties across the state. But he refused to issue a mask authorization.

South Dakota Gov. Christy Noem, who has gained a reputation among conservatives by abandoning lockdowns, He blamed the increase in cases On test increases, even though the state has the highest positive rate in the country over the past two weeks, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Positivity rates are an indicator of the extent of the infection.

In Wisconsin, conservative groups I filed a lawsuit On the state mask Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

It doesn’t matter if this condition applies to Judy Berhals, a Gillette resident who questions the effectiveness of wearing the mask. Oconto, whose hometown county stretches from the northern border of Green Bay to forests and farmland, has the second highest growth rate of coronavirus cases per person in the state.

Berhals, a single mother of three, is more concerned about the business decline in her tiny salon. The region depends on tourists, but many of them moved away during the pandemic.

“Do I want to conserve water, or do I want to be able to put food on the table?” She asked. “It’s a difficult situation.”

Pearhals said she believes the virus cannot be stopped and it is best to let it run its course. But local attitudes like this have left County Health Officer Debra Konitzer desperate.

Konitzer warned that the uncontrolled spread of the infection has overwhelmed health systems in the district.

“I’m just waiting to see if our society can change our behavior. Otherwise, I see no end in sight,” she said.


This story was corrected to fix Kunitser’s satire in one instance.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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