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NSF awards grant to study impacts and responses to COVID-19 in Iowa small towns.

Author: Troy Rutter

The National Science Foundation’s Sociology program has awarded a $200,000 rapid response grant to document the health, socioeconomic, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in Iowa small towns. The project is led by Iowa State University rural sociology professor David Peters, along with University of Iowa professors Mark Berg in sociology and Nicole Novak in public health.

The team will use the funds to document the health, socioeconomic and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in Iowa’s rural communities. According to the researchers, the pandemic’s impact on small towns has been largely ignored in academic and policy discussions, as attention has focused on large metropolitan areas.

“This makes small towns statistically invisible and creates a false sense of rural immunity, even as projections anticipate rising numbers of cases and deaths,” Peters said. “For example, COVID-19 outbreaks in rural meat-packing communities caught public health and government officials off-guard. Policies and programs are being rapidly developed to address the pandemic.”

If such policies are not informed by timely social research, Peters said, they may fail to address pressing rural needs or be ill-suited to rural contexts. As rural communities become more ethno-racially diverse due to changes in agriculture, more information is needed to better target health and economic recovery programs in these unique towns.

An advisory panel of representatives from local government, public health and other relevant community and business organizations will help guide the research project. This team will survey over 12,000 residents across 70 small Iowa towns using an existing longitudinal rural panel from the Iowa Small Towns Project.

“Three of these communities are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are home to large meat-packing facilities,” Peters said. “Early reports from these places suggest outbreaks may exacerbate preexisting racial and economic marginalization.”

Two organizations—the League of United Latin American Citizens and Solidarity with Food Processing Workers—will assist the research partners in these communities. The project will start later this month and conclude in July 2021.

More information about the ISU award and the UI award is available from the National Science Foundation. For any questions, contact David Peters by email (dpeters@iastate.edu) or telephone (515-294-6303).

List of communities …

Afton
Albia
Anita
Atkins
Audubon
Bancroft
Bedford
Bloomfield
Buffalo Center
Calmar
Center Point
Chariton
Cherokee
Clarence
Clarinda
Colo
Columbus Junction
Corning
Correctionville
Denison
Donnellson
Eagle Grove
Elma
Epworth
Estherville
Fruitland
Garnavillo
George
Gilbertville
Glidden
Gowrie
Graettinger
Hamburg
Hartford
Hartley
Hills
Hospers
Humboldt
Jefferson
Lake Park
Lamoni
Le Claire
Le Mars
Madrid
Mapleton
Mediapolis
Missouri Valley
Monroe
Montezuma
Mount Ayr
Murray
Nashua
Nora Springs
Northwood
Oakland
Pleasantville
Pocahontas
Sac City
Sheffield
Sibley
St. Ansgar
Traer
Ventura
Villisca
Waukon
Waverly
Webster City
Williamsburg
Winfield
Woodward