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How Do Pandemics Affect Rural Communities? One Doctor's Take On What To Expect

By Sally Beauvais

The number of Texans testing positive for the new coronavirus is expected to rise quickly this week, as the state's testing capacity increases and community spread continues to occur.

In response, several Texas cities are shutting down bars, restaurants and other venues to try and slow the transmission of the virus.

But how rural West Texans should prepare, and what they should expect, has been the subject of debate among local officials and residents in the Big Bend region.

Marfa Public Radio's Sally Beauvais talked with Dr. Phuoc Le, a physician with the University of California, San Francisco who's worked in rural communities across the world, about the spread of COVID-19 to rural areas.

They discuss:

  • How the disease spread from urban to rural areas during the initial outbreak in China, and what that could mean for the U.S. "More and more cases will be seen in rural areas," Le said. "Really, the time is now to have preparation for what should be an eventuality, based on all of our predictions."
  • How the rural healthcare crisis in Texas and the U.S. will impact the capabilities of rural hospitals to respond to local cases.
  • Le's take on what rural residents can do to prepare, and why this week is a crucial one for taking precautions.
  • How the slow rate of testing in the U.S. and in Texas is giving us an unclear picture of where COVID-19 is currently present. "It's likely that in many rural areas there are cases right now that are undiagnosed," Le said. "Because of testing availability, we just do not know what the numbers are out there."

While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Big Bend region, local doctors have said because of limited supplies, they need to reserve testing for the most severely ill patients. Currently it is unclear how many people have been tested in the area.

Learn more about capabilities for testing for the new coronavirus in the Big Bend Region here.

Listen to the conversation between Marfa Public Radio's Sally Beauvais and Dr. Phuoc Le at the top of this page.

Sally Beauvais is a reporter at Marfa Public Radio.