By Julie Tesch, President & CEO
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times by now: “We are living in unprecedented times.” In the blink of an eye, COVID-19 is rocking the economic and healthcare landscapes of our country. We don’t know what the future holds or what to do about it, so the best we can do is listen to the experts. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands vigorously. Stay at home if at all possible. Unprecedented times, indeed.
For those of us in smaller rural communities, it might be easier to self-isolate than other populations across the country. One of the reasons I moved to rural Minnesota was for more space and fewer people. I enjoy the quietness of the countryside. When I want to engage with people, I know where to go to do just that. Obviously, that will be changing for the foreseeable future, but I feel like I’m prepared to weather the storm because of my surroundings.
But while we might be self-isolating in the real world, we’re not isolated in the virtual world. At the Center, we all office from home already, so we know this drill, and as long as there is internet available in our rural areas, we will continue working. Here are a few things we’ll be keeping an eye on:
- Rural Healthcare: We were already in the final stages of preparing a major article on the impact of mergers and consolidations on access to health care in rural areas. Now we’ll also be looking at the impact of this new stress on our rural healthcare system and how it holds up.
- Rural Broadband: Many people are being asked to work from home. How many rural residents could actually take that as an option?
- Workforce: Where does this leave the rural workforce? We have been operating in a time of not enough employees to fill jobs. Now what?
There is no doubt that all Americans will be affected by this pandemic. It doesn’t matter if you live in a rural or urban setting. This virus doesn’t discriminate. The one thing that we can all do is be kind to one another. Check on your neighbors to see if they need anything (while keeping your six-foot distance). Is someone short of food? Offer some of yours. Support your local businesses by ordering take-out or delivery from restaurants. Call a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a long time, or heck, maybe even write a hand-written letter.
Are you looking for some new things to read as you hunker down at home? Why not become more versed in topics important to rural Minnesota by exploring the research on our new and improved website at www.ruralmn.org? You will find all our research available to read, and many reports are available to download as well. You will also find the first episode of our new podcast, Center of Everything, where we explore stories of rural Minnesotans who are making a difference in their communities. Rural isn’t in the middle of nowhere, it’s in the center of everywhere. Make sure to take a listen!
We at the Center for Rural Policy & Development wish you health and happiness over these next few weeks and months.