It was January 2021 in McKinley County, New Mexico, and George Munoz was in despair. Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic, the devastating impact on his community weighed on him.
“We live in a small town, so everyone kind of knows everyone right?” Munoz, a representative elected to the state legislature, told Yahoo Finance. “For seven days in a row, I knew someone who was dead.”
McKinley County has one of the highest COVID-related deaths in the United States, according to a new analysis from the Yahoo Finance and Economic Innovation Group (EIG), and represents a subset of America for which the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly devastating.
The pandemic has had a ‘disproportionate impact on these counties’
McKinley’s fight with COVID-19 is not unique: in some parts of the country there is pain from deteriorating job opportunities and the death of despair was felt long before the pandemic made life unimaginably worse.
EIGs Index of Distressed Communities (DCI) is an ongoing survey of counties that are under the most economic distress. The analysis includes 99% of the U.S. population and all 25,400 plus zip codes with at least 500 residents.
About 50 million Americans live in counties considered “distressed,” a category of counties with DCI scores above 80.0. On average, 25% of the population in a deprived county lives below the poverty line, 35% of the adult population of primary working age is unemployed, and more than 20% of adults do not have a high school.
“There are many factors and usually a combination of factors that can lead to financial hardship,” August Benzow, a research and policy analyst at EIG, told Yahoo Finance. “The persistence of the accident is often the result of structural disinvestment, some of it unintentionally as with declining tax bases, and something more intentional as in the absence of public investment in struggling places.”
Concerned counties generally face a vicious mix of aging demographics, chronic underfunding of its public health institutions, and poverty. These factors converge with local conditions: the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania and Ohio exacerbated distress, Benzow noted, and the collapse of coal mining exacerbated distress in palachia.
Underlying problems are often long-lasting: in 2000, McKinley had an unlucky score of 87.1, according to the EIG analysis, and this figure had risen to 94.4 by early 2021.
By adding the number of deaths due to COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants of the country found the EIG mortality rate for distressed counties to be higher than non-distressed counties. (Estimates for counties less than 100,000 inhabitants were adjusted accordingly.)
The resulting analysis reflects “the disproportionate impact on these counties,” Benzow noted.
The lack of coronavirus testing in distressed areas – leading to fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases – could skew the data towards higher death rates, although poorer areas are also more likely signs the total number of deaths. In addition, distressed counties are more likely to experience more residents with underlying conditions, less prepared hospital systems, less efficient governance, and ultimately a higher number preventable deaths.
‘All these little riddles to try to figure out’
Hancock County in Georgia and its slowly declining population of approx. 8,500 is ill-suited for a pandemic.
The county’s poverty rate is 24% and the median household income is less than $ 32,000. In 2012, it became Atlanta-Journal Constitution noted that Hancock County was “so poor that 80 percent of its public school students are eligible for a free lunch program.” Pr. December 2020, the unemployment rate was 8.5%.
Hancock County’s DCI score was 99.8 from February 2021, making it one of the most needy U.S. counties.
Rural areas generally do not have quick and easy access to hospitals – rural postcodes lost one in five hospital beds between 2006 and 2017 and Hancock Memorial Hospital closed in mid – 2001 unsustainable debt.
The EIG calculated the cumulative mortality rate in Hancock County to be 644 per capita. 100,000 – one of the highest in all counties and nearly six times the death rate in Maricopa County, Arizona, a prosperous county with a death rate of 110 per. 100,000 people.
Union County, Florida, has seen better fortune than Hancock in the midst of the pandemic, but is still facing enormous difficulties.
A small county with one population of approx. 15,000 have a poverty rate of 22% and a median household income of less than $ 42,000. Union County’s DCI score was 95.5 from February 2021.
The EIG calculated the county’s cumulative death rate to be 459 (per 100,000) – one of the highest in all counties – and travel played a major role in the spread of coronavirus there.
“The fascinating thing about COVID and geogrhy is that there are just all these little puzzles to try and figure out,” Ray Oldakowski, a geogrhy professor at Jacksonville University, told Yahoo Finance. “A lot of the people who live in the North Central Florida area will go back and forth across county boundaries for health care to work and that kind of thing.”
‘Yyou think about who will be next ‘
Munoz, the state legislator in New Mexico, said McKinley County did not really suffer a major setback after being elected during the 2008 recession until the coronavirus pandemic brought deep destruction.
About 1 in 6 of the county 72,000 residents – the population is overwhelmingly Native American with the Navajo and Pueblo Pintado tribes most prevalent – have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I know five people who died last week due to COVID,” said Dr. Crystal Lee, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico’s College of Public Health and a member of the Navajo Nation, Yahoo Finance. “Many of my friends and family members, parents have passed away, grandparents, and it happens weekly. Just on my Facebook feed, I have personally known at least 60 people who have left COVID since March. ”
“Seeing it around my community at a constant speed, it’s discouraging for many of us, and we’re experiencing a lot of grief, a lot of mental and emotional trauma,” Lee added, “because you’re thinking about who’s going to be next or hope no one is near you. “
Ultimately, a healthy recovery from the coronavirus pandemic looks elusive to U.S. counties like McKinley, unless there is enough support to address the underlying issues that made them so vulnerable in the first place.
“Sustainable investment is needed in these distressed places to help them rebuild their economy,” Benzow stressed, “and the goal should be to make their economies more resilient than they were before the pandemic.”