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Challenges W.Va.’s rural areas face in a pandemic

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(Lewisburg, W.Va.) WVVA - According to a study by Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C. based health policy organization, West Virginia ranks as the third least prepared state for disasters and public health emergencies like the Coronavirus pandemic.

One factor is that southern West Virginia's rural communities have limited healthcare capabilities compared to urban and suburban areas. Assistant professor at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and Medical Director at the Robert C. Byrd Clinic Dr. Lauren Miller works in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Dr. Miler said, "If we don’t flatten this curve, we do not have what WVU, what Huntington has, in regard to healthcare."

The population of West Virginia is vulnerable too. According to the Center for Disease Control, contributing factors for poor health outcomes for COVID-19 patients are age and certain underlying health conditions. In West Virginia almost twenty percent of the population is over the age of 65, and over 40 percent of West Virginians have pre-existing conditions.

Greenbrier County Health Department health officer Dr. Bridgette Morrison said if West Virginians don't heed stay at home warnings "our healthcare facilities, our healthcare providers will be overwhelmed very quickly especially in our rural areas in West Virginia."

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) also warned West Virginians to stay at home during this pandemic because of poor health and he cited infections rates. Gov. Justice said, "If we don’t do anything today the statistics bear out and tell us ironclad- especially if the tsunami comes- for every day we wait we have a forty percent greater infection rate than what we have every 24 hours we wait."

But, there is a bright side. Greenbrier County Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Mike Honaker said being in a rural area during a pandemic makes social distancing easier than in urban areas where people live closer together. Honaker said, "We’re very fortunate that we live in a rural area we’re very spread out. We don’t live shoulder to shoulder so much and that’s a good thing."

Haley Brown

Multimedia Journalist

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