[This article has a co-author, Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed his own consulting business when IBM downsized.
On October 16th, ABC News reported that the United States has only four counties remaining that have not reported any COVID-19 cases. Not surprising is that all of these counties are isolated and rural. One of them, Kalawao, is the site of the former leper colony on the island of Moloka’i, where some 80 or so people still reside. Even though leprosy has been conquered by modern medicine, Most of these residents chose to remain there because they believed their disfigurements from the illness would make reintegration into society impossible. The other three, Esmeralda County, Nevada, Loving County, Texas, and the Municipality and Borough of Skagway, located in SE Alaska, are far more open than Kalawao, which restricts visitors and sees few of its residents traveling beyond its boundaries.
The last of the 39 counties in Washington to report zero COVID-19 cases was Garfield. It reported its first confirmed case on July 12th and by July 14th it reported a second case. As of October 16th, the count had climbed to 13. This is in a county with one town, Pomeroy, and 2,225 residents
Like Garfield County, the COVID-19 pandemic was slow to reach the other 1,975 rural counties in the U.S., but reach them it did. Moreover, it will reach the last four standing, even Kalawao. Given the isolation and low population density of these rural counties, the majority of residents likely believed that the pandemic was an urban problem and would not reach them. Unfortunately, this belief was itself misplaced and was aided and abetted by their political leanings (typically, Republican, as is the case with Garfield County), which made many residents ill-disposed to outside mandates to self-isolate, practice social distancing, and wear masks, possibly due to the misinformation they consumed from conservative media outlets. The outcome was also, unfortunately, predictable. With Trump himself contracting and spreading the disease around the country and the entrenchment of COVID-19 in rural counties, it appears that our hypothesis was accurate, “being Republican and being in proximity to Republicans” did, indeed, turn out to be a very real risk factor.
To paraphrase the line at the top of this article, which is taken from the film, V For Vendetta, “Beneath this mask is an idea, one about my safety and yours, and ideas like this are bulletproof.”