COVID-19 Life in Rural Missouri
Understanding the Mindset in Rural Areas
You’re probably wondering why people in “fly-over” states are re-opening during this pandemic. I will discuss some of the things I have observed while reporting local news stories in Southeast Missouri and try to explain the mindset of the people around me.
Local Hospital Fountain Credit Source: Christina Ragain (April 27, 2020)
Why does it seem like no big deal?
Many of the towns in Southeast Missouri have not had a large number of cases of COVID-19 develop at this time. As you can see from the picture above, the local hospitals are not overrun with cases and hopefully never will be. Many residents in small towns do not travel to larger cities, such as St. Louis, very often and do not have a sense that there is a great risk of contracting the virus. Land is abundant and farmers are mostly isolated from big city life in which you would come in contact with thousands of people on a daily basis. When people do come into the smaller cities situated between St Louis and Memphis to go shopping they are met with a mix of national corporations prepping for CoronaVirus and local shops trying to do what they can to mitigate the spread of the virus. This creates a dystopian reality in which confusion among the local population about what to believe is the norm.
B-2 Bomber Flyover of Cape Girardeau MO Credit Source: Christina Ragain (May 8, 2020)
What are the factors leading to confusion?
Some of the observed activities leading to disbelief are:
- No one really knows someone with the virus and if they do it was “a fella at church”.
- The Governor of Missouri is publicly visiting small businesses without using a mask or much social distancing.
- The local health departments are telling residents to use masks and wash their hands regularly.
- Local farmers markets are telling vendors to use masks but not requiring them for patrons when just a week earlier they were requiring everyone to remain in their cars.
- National chain stores are using a one-size-fits-all approach to opening up.
- The US Airforce is performing flyovers to draw large crowds into the streets.
Cape Girardeau Farmers Market Credit Source: Christina Ragain (May 7, 2020)
“I know there is a lot of attention on this virus, but life goes on” Gov. Parson (May 14, 2020)
What are peoples’ daily lives looking like?
For the most part, daily life has gotten back to normal at the time of this writing. I drove through a donut shop this past weekend to find the window attendant not wearing a face mask as the health department is suggesting. Traffic in our small city is seemingly at normal pre-covid levels. There are also many restaurants reducing the number of chairs and tables available for use. A local winery has installed sneeze guards and has reduced seating. The local mall is limping along as one of the national anchor stores has now filed for bankruptcy and has yet to open back up. The regional university has decided to remain closed to foot traffic, instead continuing with online classes and operations. Toilet paper is showing up on retail shelves on a regular basis. It is a strange mix of normal and change all at the same time.
What can we learn from all of this?
People in rural areas of the country do not see the devastating effects of COVID-19 and if they can’t see it, it ain’t real. I hope it never becomes real but if it does we are going to not only run out of toilet paper again, we are going to be faced with a shocking reality that maybe we weren’t prepared for.