Dan Rushton

Assessing Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Rural Communities

To date the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been centered on major metropolitan areas, but as infection rates there begin to stabilize and reach their peak, attention is shifting to smaller rural communities to ensure they are sufficiently prepared when the outbreak reaches them.

A lot of the early analysis was both reactive and urban in nature, because that's where the pandemic spread earliest. But with case counts rising in rural areas, these places could start feeling the full effect of the pandemic soon.
Matt Dunne, Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation

The Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), a dynamic social enterprise solving America’s rural economic crisis by empowering small towns to build thriving digital economies, partnered with AppliedXL and STAT to produce a COVID-19 Preparedness Tool in order to analyze the disparity levels across the US and identify which areas are in greater need of support.

Screenshot showing the CORI COVID-19 Preparedness Tool


In a previous post we looked at how location analytics can be used to slow the spread of COVID-19 as described in the first phase of the report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The second phase, reopening state by state, will rely on a “careful, data-driven, county-by-county approach” leveraging dashboards such as that produced by CORI.

Reopening the US will be a careful, data-driven, county-by-county approach.
Robert Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Building the Solution

A number of data sets were used to determine the preparedness score of each US county including;

  • The number of licensed hospital beds within a 40-minute drive.
  • The number of critical care staff within a 40-minute drive.
  • The percentage of the population aged 65 and older.
  • The county's score on the Social Vulnerability Index.
  • Data from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's COVID-19 model.

Key Findings

The tool reveals that some rural areas are better prepared than others. Analysis from STAT found that:

“Portions of states like Vermont and New Hampshire and regions like the Midwest, for example, appear equipped to better handle the brunt of the outbreak than other rural communities. The dashboard also points to the places at higher risk. Some are areas where concerns have already been raised — including segments of the Deep South, where some governors were slow to implement physical distancing measures, and sparsely populated expanses in Western states outside larger cities. Others, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which has suffered hospital closures, have received less attention.”

Additional Maps and Data Visualization Tools

We sat down with Rebekah Collinsworth, Communications Director at CORI who gave more details about the work they have been doing along with additional maps and data visualization tools they have published.

What were the motivations behind the development of the tool?

While our focus has been on how we can help rural communities recover economically through this pandemic, we do a lot of work with data and data visualization in rural places and recognized this as a time to expand the scope of our work to respond to what’s happening in rural America. When the partnership with STAT and Newlab presented itself, we knew it was an important project that would provide meaningful insights to areas of the country that would need it most. Making rural data available is important if we want them to be included in response and recovery efforts.

How do you hope the tool will be used to combat COVID-19 and aid in recovery efforts?

As with all our maps, we hope that people will use this as a tool to better understand and respond to what’s happening in rural America. Unfortunately, small towns and rural communities have the tendency to be overshadowed by what’s happening in urban areas, but we’re working to change that.

Throughout the pandemic, our mapping and data analytics team has used CARTO to create maps that provide greater clarity into the ways COVID-19 is affecting rural America. From maps identifying the school districts being impacted by the lack of broadband availability, to maps highlighting the counties facing significant employment risks, we are focused on providing insights into all areas of rural life.

Who is the audience that you’re trying to reach and what has been their response and reception?

We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to this project and gotten requests for more like it. It’s been widely shared by local leaders and officials who want to support their communities, and by members of the media who want to better understand the challenges facing rural America.

Want to learn more about CORI's work with CARTO?

Watch the recent webinar
About the author
Dan Rushton

Dan is the Content Marketing Manager at CARTO. Dan holds a Masters in Electronic Engineering with business experience in development, sales, training and marketing. Prior to joining CARTO, Dan was a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Apple.

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