Covid-19 and the Rural Fear of Taking Advantage – The New York Times

Posted: June 1, 2020 at 3:53 am

CLINTON, Ark. After a brief shutdown to hinder the coronaviruss spread, Arkansas began opening up, slowly and cautiously, on May 11. Businesses are placing limits on the number of customers they will serve at any one time, and social distancing and mask wearing is still required in establishments like restaurants. The states Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, has been critical of businesses and customers that dont follow these rules. Even so, Arkansas has seen a second peak of coronavirus infection, as cases surge especially among younger people and the Latino population in northwestern counties. On Thursday, Governor Hutchinson announced the largest single-day increase in community transmission 261 cases.

Despite this, and despite predictions that the virus will take a crushing toll in rural areas like ours, this part of Arkansas has so far been spared the worst health effects of Covid-19. Van Buren County, where I live, has fewer than 17,000 people and has had only 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus to date. Two people died, but the rest have recovered. Early cases were concentrated in bigger cities, like Little Rock and a suburb of Memphis, and were disproportionately among black Arkansans. There have been more than 6,500 cases in the state about a fifth of them have been in prisons, and those cases werent even added to official totals at first, all of which is a human rights disaster but most families havent been affected. Any death is a tragedy, but death from Covid-19 hasnt personally touched very many people here. At least not yet.

I moved back here to my hometown two and a half years ago to write a book about it. Since returning, Ive become more active on Facebook, which is both a source of local gossip and official news; county officials and offices often post important updates, especially about the coronavirus outbreak, to their Facebook pages. Im also a member of three local news groups that are a source of insight into how my neighbors think about current events. Ive found that a vast majority of people here approach political issues, whether local or national, with suspicion of taxation and government spending, even when such spending is for their own benefit. This has remained true even during these unprecedented times.

We have been hit with the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. The median household income in the state is $45,726; for the county its $34,428, so there are many people who live paycheck to paycheck. While a large majority of Americans 74 percent support continued efforts to slow the viruss spread, and there are plenty of well-off Americans and business owners eager to get back to work, the divide over whether lockdowns should continue is a strongly partisan one. Many Republicans, including low- and middle-income whites think businesses should reopen now. For the most part, the people Ive spoken to and seen commenting online here accept as a given that the only way to be able to pay their rent or to feed their kids is to return to work: They dont think its possible to protect our health and our economic well-being at the same time.

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Covid-19 and the Rural Fear of Taking Advantage - The New York Times

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