COVID-19 and Rural People with Disabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed societal life. People with disabilities have been particularly impacted both directly via health risks, and indirectly due to service disruptions and preventative measures (e.g., stay-at-home orders). Additionally, many people with disabilities are immunocompromised and are at a greater risk of serious complications and death due to infection from COVID-19. When it comes to planning, meeting accommodation needs, and accessibility issues, people with disabilities are at a disproportionately high risk during times of crisis compared to those without. Our COVID-19 research provides timely answers to this evolving crisis. We use both national and individual-level data to understand how COVID-19 is impacting rural and urban people.  We have explored adherence to recommended prevention practices, factors related to vaccine hesitancy, county level risk factors, economic and health impacts, and strategies for effective community response, to name a few. 

Rural Disability Hub for COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach

Connecting with rural partners to promote COVID-19 vaccination

Webpage: Rural Disability Hub for COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach

Email:         Andrew Myers (

Phone:       (406) 243-4683


Research and Information


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October 2021

COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy among Americans with disabilities aged 18-65: An exploratory analysis

It is important for people with disabilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because, as a group, they are at increased risk of severe outcomes. While there are multiple vaccines available to prevent COVID-19, a considerable proportion of Americans report some hesitancy to becoming vaccinated, including people with disabilities.


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April 2021

America at a glance: COVID-19 vaccination among people with disabilities

There is a lack of focus on how people with disabilities are experiencing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Addressing this knowledge gap is critical to ensuring that people with disabilities are considered as vaccination efforts progress during the ongoing pandemic and future health crises. 


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January 2021

A cross-sectional analysis of trust of information and COVID-19 preventative practices among people with disabilities

This study aimed to better understand the relationship between how much someone trusts an information source and how likely they are to adhere to COVID-19 preventative practices. Researchers explored how disability type, demographics, and geography might be related to trust and adherence to preventative practices.


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December 2020

Engaging Stakeholders to Address Changing Service Delivery Conditions Due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations working in the field of disability research and program development to adapt when in-person services were suspended. One way this adaptation occurred was by embracing collaborative problem-solving using a participatory curriculum development (PCD) approach. PCD requires consistent and continued stakeholder engagement. These practices align with Knowledge translation (KT) in that KT requires continued investment to adapt to the ever-changing contexts for which interventions are originally designed. 


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November 12, 2020

America at a glance: Early fears realized as COVID-19 surges in rural counties

To explore the growing COVID-19 strain on healthcare, we mapped the difference between expected need for ICU beds and local availability. Our map reflects the last week in October through the first week of November, a time period when COVID-19 cases were increasing at steep rates.

Map: Difference between the estimated need for COVID-19 ICU beds and the actual beds available across U.S. counties


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August 25, 2020

America at a glance: Social isolation and loneliness during the first wave of COVID-19

To learn more about how COVID-19 and public health responses such as stay-at-home orders may contribute to feelings of social isolation and loneliness among people with disabilities, RTC:Rural researchers compared data from two cross-sectional samples collected before and after the first wave of “stay-at-home” orders.


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July 21, 2020
America at a glance: COVID-19 and disability in rural areas

This research brief explores rural/urban differences in COVID-19 health risks, preventative practices, and trust in sources for people with disabilities. Overall, these findings support the relationship between trust in information and adherence to public health practices. As the pandemic continues to ravage the US and penetrate even the most sparsely populated communities, providing clear, consistent, and up-to-date health recommendations will become increasingly vital.


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April 22, 2020

RTC:Rural research shows higher risks for rural people during COVID-19

Rural people with disabilities face many barriers to accessing health care, particularly Intensive Care Units and hospital beds. Hospital capacity varies greatly, as does the prevalence of people with disabilities. Typically, there are fewer hospital beds and higher rates of disability in rural places than urban ones. Project Director Lillie Greiman discusses some of these barriers in a recent Public News Service article.


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April 3, 2020

Identifying potential hospital bed shortages for people with disabilities

Overall, individuals who experience disability are at greater risk for being hospitalized either because they have contracted COVID-19 or because pre-existing health conditions have worsened. Hospital capacity varies greatly across the nation, as does the prevalence of disability. In order to understand which areas may be most impacted by an influx of patients with disabilities, we analyzed the number of people with disabilities per hospital bed across hospital referral regions.

Map: People with Disabilities per Hospital Beds by Hospital Referral Region (HRR)

Community Living

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August 7, 2021

People with Disabilities Still at Risk in Congregate Care Settings

This report provides an analysis of data to better understand where cases and deaths are rising in nursing homes as of August 8 2021. We hope this analysis can help support local community planning and networking among rural partners to improve outcomes.

  • COVID-19 cases among residents and staff are on the rise in nursing homes with the steepest increases in urban areas and in the South and Midwest.
  • Disabled people are disproportionately overrepresented in the resident populations of unsafe congregate settings, such as nursing homes.
  • Vaccination rates across both residents and staff in nursing homes have stagnated.
  • Policy priorities should be set by people with disabilities and disability-led organizations to promote community-based efforts such as transition and relocation from unsafe congregate settings into the community.


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May 7, 2020

Skilled Nursing Facilities in Rural Communities: Opportunities for partnering on COVID-19 response efforts

Nearly one-third of skilled nursing facilities are located in rural counties. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released guidance for COVID-19 prevention and response that rural communities can use to address the needs of institutionalized people with disabilities. Guest blog post by Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural Knowledge Broker.

Map: locations of skilled nursing facilities 


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April 22, 2020 

COVID-19: An increased threat to people with disabilities living in rural institutions

Because people living in institutional settings are more likely to report disabilities than the general population and these settings are not evenly distributed between urban and rural areas across the U.S., rural people with disabilities have a lot at stake in efforts to address the pandemic and outbreaks in institutional settings. Guest blog post by Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural Knowledge Broker.

Map: percent of population institutionalized. 


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April 3, 2020 

Recognizing people with disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic

To assess the impact of COVID on people with disabilities and their needs, it’s important to understand the prevalence of disability by the functional limitations of people living with disabilities experience in their communities.


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November 13, 2020

America at a glance: Unemployment among people with disabilities during the COVID-19 recession

Unemployment among people with disabilities spiked to 18.9% in April 2020 and declined to 12.5% in September. Both the initial increase and recent decrease in unemployment was primarily driven by changes in temporary unemployment (unemployed workers who expect to go back to their same job within six months). While temporary unemployment has gone down, permanent unemployment has risen since the recession began, and may indicate that for some, temporary unemployment is becoming permanent. 


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April 23, 2020

How will the COVID-19 recession impact people with disabilities in rural America?

While many Americans will suffer in the coming recession, people with disabilities in rural areas are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to have an emergency savings fund, have access to paid leave, or be able to work from home.

Resource Lists

Covid moleculeUpdated June 2, 2022
COVID-19 Resources

A short list of resources and information for the disability community.