New research brief: COVID-19 and disability in rural areas

July 21, 2020


Rural/urban differences in trust in sources and preventative practices

Public health is shaped by community-level action. This is especially important during crises such as COVID-19, where widespread adoption of public health practices is necessary to manage community spread and prevent loss. Consistent information is important for fostering trust and adherence to recommended practices.

While early focus about COVID-19 was on urban areas with large case numbers, more attention should be focused on rural areas. Rural populations tend to:

  • be older
  • report more chronic health conditions
  • have higher rates of disability

Congregate living and large group facilities, such as nursing homes and prisons, tend to be concentrated in rural areas. As well, rural health care, including hospital bed access, is insufficient for treating large numbers of COVID-19 patients.

To learn more about COVID-19 impacts on rural people with disabilities, we conducted a survey in late April/early May to explore rural and urban differences in COVID-19 health risks, adherence to public health recommendations, and trust in different information sources. We focused on people with disabilities because they often experience higher rates of secondary health conditions that place them at heightened risk of COVID-19 complications.

Summary findings:

  • Rural respondents reported higher rates of COVID-19 health risk factors, but less adherence to public health recommendations.
  • Overall, individuals with health risk factors reported adopting fewer public health recommendations than individuals without health risk factors.
  • Service providers and Dr. Anthony Fauci were the most trusted sources of information about COVID-19 for both rural and urban respondents.


To learn more about these findings, follow the link below to download the research brief from the RTC:Rural and Rural Institute ScholarWorks collection:

America at a glance: COVID-19 and disability in rural areas

The research brief is is available to download as an accessible PDF or an EPUB file.


In the news

This research was featured in a number of new outlets, including: