(Terre Haute) Tribune Star
Autumn erased misconceptions that COVID-19 is a big-city problem.
The year-end holidays may fully reveal that the coronavirus is a dire small-town dilemma, too. Wabash Valley residents should rethink their Christmas, New Year’s and other seasonal plans, as a result.
This past week, America’s highest per-capita coronavirus hospitalization rates were found in South Dakota and, yes, Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday. Sixty-one of every 100,000 South Dakotans were in a hospital bed with the virus, according to research by the COVID Tracking Project. Fifty of every 100,000 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19.
The problem was perhaps more problematic in Indiana, because the state has 270 hospital beds for every 100,000 residents, compared to South Dakota’s 480 beds.
Especially vulnerable are rural hospitals, where any quarantine of exposed health-care workers particularly complicates operations. New COVID cases in rural communities are outpacing those in urban areas, the leader of the Indiana Rural Health Association told the Tribune-Star’s Sue Loughlin on Tuesday.
Hospitals in the outlying areas are near capacity, said Cara Veale, the association’s CEO.
Health care professionals at those facilities are “gravely concerned” about rural Hoosiers failing to take the safety measures recommended repeatedly by public health experts. A trait of independence common among many rural residents, admirable in other situations, “tends to intensify some of these risks” to those individuals and others they encounter in the pandemic, Veale said.
Face masking, keeping a distance of at least six feet, and avoiding large gatherings are imperative in slowing the pandemic’s spread. Folks who were nonchalant about the protocols before have contributed to the current surge. Rural hospitals, and the rest of Indiana’s small-town populations, desperately need them to abide by the guidelines and resist traditionally large holiday get-togethers.
Those hospitals typically function with lean staffs. The community spread of COVID-19 can infect and thus sideline doctors, nurses, technicians, EMTs, aides and others, or expose them to the disease and force them to quarantine. That puts further stress on a small hospital staff, impinging its ability to care for other coronavirus patients, not to mention putting those workers’ lives at risk.
And, when available beds have filled with COVID patients, people facing other serious ailments have avoided seeking care.
Rural hospital officials also remind residents their adherence to public-safety protocols will affect others through this holiday season.
Stacy Burris, administrator at Greene County General Hospital in Linton, praised the community’s support and offered a reminder.
“Everyone knows each other,” Burris said. “Chances are you know someone who works at the hospital. You want to protect them.”
Tough decisions must be made across Indiana this winter. Promising vaccines are coming, but widespread availability is months away. In the meantime, smaller, one-household observances of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve are recommended.
It is a sacrifice, but a short-term and considerate one. The choice could make the difference between heartaches this winter or celebrating with family and friends in 2021 and beyond.
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