Trailblazing US Rep. Eva Clayton: The Virus is Winning the Race in Rural North Carolina

At work in DC in December 2001, Eva Clayton was a trailblazing former congresswoman from North Carolina. She was also a longtime local leader in Warren County, NC. (Getty Images)

By evaclayton

September 9, 2021

The low vaccination numbers and lack of health care access make for a deadly combo in rural places.

[Editor’s Note: Eva Clayton is a former congresswoman from the US House of Representatives who served five terms in DC. When she was elected in 1992, she became the first Black person to serve North Carolina in the US House since Jim Crow laws disenfranchised Southern Black people at the end of the 1800s. She was a longtime local leader in Warren County, NC.]

A song is sung in some of our churches: “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your word.” 

Citizens, families and friends living in rural communities know what that means. We build our lives in these calmer spaces,  pride ourselves on being resilient and independent, and care for our neighbors and acquaintances whether we like them or not. We tell ourselves that rural communities are good places to live, “good soil.”

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Rural communities, however, have struggled with limited health resources for years, and many such areas are poor. This pandemic has added to the heavy burdens we already bear.

Still, we help each other in times of crisis. COVID-19 is one such emergency where we do what we can to reduce the harm.  Vaccinations, wearing masks, and social distancing minimize the damage.  

Because health disparities are already high in these areas, vaccinations in rural communities are even more critical to protect our families, neighbors, and ourselves.  Although more older adults like myself are vaccinated, our younger citizens, students, and workers are now filling overstrained and crowded hospitals.  More are dying in rural areas than ever before. 

When we fail to get vaccinated, we add to the pain of our beloved communities.

The Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of COVID-19. If we are not careful, our schools and businesses will soon close again.

Some of us who are vaccinated are still catching and transmitting the virus, albeit with less profound effects than if we were unvaccinated, but this is a crisis in the making. If we want to keep our schools and businesses open, games and concerts playing, and churches worshiping, we must all work together and encourage vaccinations.

The COVID-19 virus has revealed clearly what many of us experienced daily: the lack of medical resources. We are enduring the painful reality that our communities lack specialized health professionals, clinics, and an adequate number of hospitals.  When unique medical resources are needed, we must travel – an added cost for rural citizens. 

And our communities have a large percentage of medically vulnerable citizens who are living with hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart problems, respiratory conditions, and lung cancer.

Medical journals and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that rural communities carry significant disparities in the fight against COVID -19, given our health vulnerabilities and lack of health resources. 

There is an immediate need for improved health resources to serve millions of people living in rural North Carolina counties and small towns. We needed these health resources before the pandemic, and we will require them after.

It is in the interest and responsibility of the state and federal governments to provide better health infrastructure in rural communities, and only fair as we provide the food, natural resources, and vacation locations for the rest of the country.

Recent COVID-19 data clearly shows that the infection rates are going up in rural areas, and the vaccination rates are slowing down. The virus is winning the race. Dare County is a bright spot for rural communities, with 64% of its eligible population fully vaccinated and 69% having received one dose.

The song goes, “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your word.”

I paraphrase, I pray, “Lord, let the readers’ ears and hearts be the good soil, that they will be moved to get vaccinated and get others to do the same.”


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