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Study: Rural Residents Less Likely to Follow Public Health Advice

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Monday, July 27, 2020   

MISSOULA, Mont. -- A new study finds rural Americans are at higher risk for COVID-19 than their urban counterparts but less likely to adhere to public health recommendations.

The University of Montana's Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities focused on people with disabilities nationwide.

Andrew Myers, who co-authored the research, says the center compared people's likeliness to follow measures, such as frequent hand washing and wearing masks, with who they trusted for health information.

He says rural and urban areas diverge on who people trust and notes health messaging hasn't always been consistent.

"Folks tend to trust people they understand, and so that could be a reason that you see a difference in who folks trust," Myers explains.

Trust was highest for service providers, although it was lower in rural areas.

People also tended to trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, with urban residents having more confidence in his guidance.

Myers says high trust in President Donald Trump was linked to people less likely to follow health measures.

Myers says most health messaging has been urban-centric, such as warning people against joining large crowds.

"You might not even encounter a large crowd so it wouldn't really be applicable to you -- hence perhaps a tendency to think, 'Oh, well that's not really for us because the health messaging doesn't take into account my context, so why would I be listening to that?'" he states.

Myers says the survey focuses on people with disabilities in part because they face some of the highest risks during this pandemic.

"In really any kind of health crisis, they're usually the first to lose services, the first to experience any kinds of impacts, whether it be from health or economic," he points out.

The survey took place in late April and early May, after most state shutdowns were in place but before they began phasing in reopening.

It was conducted on the Amazon platform Mechanical Turk, where people recruit folks to do tasks like fill out surveys.

Disclosure: Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities, Health Issues, Rural/Farming, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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