Dr. David Peters, Rural Sociology at Iowa State University (Lead Investigator)
Dr. Mark Berg, Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Iowa (Co-Investigator)
Dr. Nicole Novak, Community & Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa (Co-Investigator)
Advisory Panel Members
City of Bancroft, Louisa County Public Health, Siouxland Chamber, Iowa League of Cities, Iowa State University Extension, League of United Latin American Citizens, Solidarity with Food Processing Workers.
Sara Camargo (ISU)
Camila Estrada (ISU)
Will Feucht (ISU)
Jennifer Flores (ISU)
Rachel Nelson (IS)
Overview and Objectives
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic continue to be a major public health crisis in the U.S. Missing from the academic and policy discussion is the pandemic’s impact on smaller communities. Rural places are still highly susceptible to the pandemic even in the absence of confirmed cases, as this public health crisis may just be taking hold (Souch and Cossman 2020). This makes rural places statistically invisible, creating a false sense of rural immunity. There is an immediate need to understand the socioeconomic, health, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in understudied rural communities, especially ones with large minority populations in meat packing towns. To address this gap, we surveyed households across 73 small towns using an existing longitudinal rural panel from the Iowa Small Towns Project (ISTP). The new data will be combined with previous waves that allow us to address three research objectives: (1) to document how COVID-19 has impacted the health, socioeconomic, and emotional well-being of residents in rural communities; (2) to identify how communities have responded to these impacts and what needs remain unmet; and (3) to understand how impacts, responses, and needs vary among ethnoracially diverse towns dominated by agricultural production and processing.
Rural communities are generally understudied in the social sciences and public health (Probst et al. 2004). There is a data deficit regarding the impacts from and responses to pandemics in rural America. There is a knowledge gap on how rural minorities are uniquely impacted by pandemics, especially in meat packing communities. Our project integrates the areas of rural sociology, public health, race and ethnicity, and social inequality to understand rural resiliency or vulnerability to COVID-19 in diverse places. Resiliency and vulnerability are dynamic processes over time that can only be determined by knowing ex ante and current conditions (Freshwater 2015). To achieve this, we use a unique longitudinal panel of rural residents in 65 small towns in Iowa to assess prior community conditions back to 1994. Three ISTP communities are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 disease transmission because they are home to large meat packing facilities. Early reports from these places suggests outbreaks may exacerbate preexisting racial marginalization and stigma in these communities (all are over 50 percent minority), potentially leading rural residents of color to be racialized as coronavirus carriers. We will employ a comprehensive survey and community engagement strategy to effectively oversample meat packing workers and minority residents.
Knowing rural impacts, responses, and resiliency to COVID-19 allows state and national public health officials to plan and allocate resources accordingly, both for the current pandemic and future ones. As rural communities become more ethnoracially diverse, more data is needed to inform health research, policy, and practice for these specific populations. Our research will give a voice to often marginalized minority residents in meat packing towns. Rural communities are not only more susceptible to COVID-19 infection than urban ones, but are also more vulnerable in their limited ability to respond. Rural vulnerabilities identified by Peters (2020) include fewer physicians and lower hospital staffing, higher rates of disability, and more uninsured individuals. Poor internet access limits the ability of rural telemedicine to address these gaps. Emotional distress may build due to a lack of social capital and social services. Our proposal seeks to understand how communities, and communities of color, address these challenges in order to better inform policy. This necessitates not only different policy responses than what is proffered in urban areas, but a distinct rural research agenda to inform policy discussions.
|Towns by Name||Population||Towns by Size||Population|
|Columbus Junction||1,837||Eagle Grove||3,406|
|Eagle Grove||3,406||Center Point||2,555|
|Missouri Valley||2,615||Lake Park||1,123|
|Sac City||2,068||Buffalo Center||855|