Small Town, Michigan, USA could be hardest hit by the coronavirus, but are they prepared?
MICHIGAN — As the coronavirus infection rate curve begins to flatten in metropolitan areas like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, it seems the worst is yet to come for Michigan’s rural communities.
We just reported that Michigan Falls From Top US Deaths As Gov. Whitmer’s Plan Flattens the Curve this week. But data released from the state shows that cases are slowly rising in Michigan’s more rural counties.
Our daily map shows that the last three counties in Michigan to be untouched by the coronavirus are in remote areas of the Upper Peninsula. But they are feeling the pinch, too.
Some rural areas of the state, such as Livingston County, have noticeably high numbers of cases. In Livingston, May’s latest numbers showed 368 cases while at the end of April, only some 337 cases had been recorded.
Barry County is in the southern third of the state, about an hour inland from Lake Michigan. Its population is roughly 61,000 Michiganders, according to US Census Bureau data and it already has 41 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one confirmed death. All before the second wave that doctors at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services warn could come.
“I can tell you, as tough as this has been, if we have to come back to this position in a month or two, it will be absolutely devastating,” Gov. Whitmer said last week, MDDHS chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun at her side.
But how are Michigan’s rural residents handling the pandemic?
Neighbors in smaller towns are especially affected after being off work for as many as two months. This rural Michigan business owner said he would rather face $1,000 fines than remain closed.
Close-knit communities in Michigan grapple with different issues combating the virus and learning social distance. An early report out of rural Michigan showed locals were transmitting the virus between each other at the most unsuspecting of places: funerals.
In areas where the virus doesn’t feel as threatening due to early numbers that seemed to pick up slower than the rest of the state, some leaders in rural Michigan have flat out defied Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s protections. This was the case when four sheriff’s came out and said they would not be following the state’s stay-at-home orders.
Considering a second possible second wave that could mainly devastate rural areas hasn’t stopped some anxious Michiganders from protesting in Lansing. We brought you the story of how the protests were shrouded in white supremacy as much as the desire to re-engage the economy. That’s a narrative that cannot go untold in Michigan’s rural areas.
The state’s medical experts say that a second wave of viral infections throughout Michigan is inevitable.
Nonprofit news Michigan Advance reports that new insights from the Brookings Institution Washington, D.C. show the majority of Michigan counties recently experiencing a jump in COVID-19 cases are rural. These areas voted strongly for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, their reports explain.
“There is a stereotypical view of the places in America that COVID-19 has affected most: they are broadly urban, comprised of predominantly of racial minorities, and strongly vote Democratic,” writes senior fellow William Frey. “This underlines the public’s perception of what kinds of populations reside in areas highly exposed to the coronavirus, as well as some of the recent political arguments over social distancing measures and the states easing their restrictions.”
One emergency room doctor in rural Michigan spoke up about what he was seeing and gave a national context: He believes the way President Trump has handled the virus is “criminal.”
“I think Trump’s leadership had been absent at best, and his actions have undermined the hard work being done by healthcare workers and local and state leaders,” Dr. Rob Davidson told The ‘Gander. “I think his LIBERATE tweets embolden a very small minority and make it more difficult to open up as we all desire. It is dangerous and undermines all of the hard work we have all done to ‘flatten the curve’.”
Michigan’s stay at home order now expires on May 28.