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'It didn't really stick with me': Understanding the rural shrug over COVID and vaccines

Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

At 70, Linda Findley has long been active in her small town of Fort Scott, Kansas, which sits more than an hour away from any major city.

Findley, whose husband died in an accident just after the local hospital closed, helps with the Elks and fundraising, and — like many people in this part of the country — doesn’t think COVID-19 is that dangerous.

“I don’t even know what I think about it,” Findley said recently. “I don’t know if I trust the testing because it’s so messed up or … I’ve had nieces and nephews, that’ve had it. I’ve lost good friends to it, or supposedly it’s to that.”

Findley said she just isn’t sure that every case reported as the coronavirus really is the virus: “Everything seems to be coronavirus. I mean, it’s just … no matter what somebody has, it’s coronavirus. I don’t know whether it is or isn’t.”

Fort Scott is one of nearly 140 rural communities that have lost a hospital in the past decade. Mercy Hospital Fort Scott closed in December 2018.

Even though critically ill patients now must travel to hospitals farther away, Fort Scott residents haven’t seen that as a pandemic-related problem. Rather, not having a hospital doesn’t really come up when people here talk about COVID-19.

 

Dave Martin, the former city manager, is pretty sure he caught COVID-19 at work last August.

“You know, when I got it, I was in good health and it did take me a while to recover,” Martin said. “I do remember waking up one of my bad nights and thinking — when I was running a temperature and not feeling very well — and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, wow, this could kill me.’”

But Martin also thought that any number of unpredictable events could end a person’s life. “So it didn’t really stick with me,” he said.

After recovering, the 62-year-old Martin went ahead with his retirement. He took his wife to Disney World and then they hiked Yellowstone National Park.

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