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COVID-19 has spread to rural counties in Kansas and Missouri, leading to spikes in cases that weren’t seen in the earliest stages of the pandemic. A combination of factors — population size and distribution, the presence of meatpacking facilities, and COVID-19 outreach programs — is affecting how these areas are responding to the virus. Many high-risk neighborhoods are also more likely to be low-income, immigrant communities, many of whom work in rural Kansas and Missouri meatpacking plants.
Early research suggests a correlation between positive cases of COVID-19 and deaths in areas with higher levels of ground-level ozone pollution and other types of air pollutants, like particulate matter. Communities most impacted by poor air quality in Kansas City are located near industrial areas and highways — areas that are more likely to house Black and Latinx people. Those same communities are also the hardest hit by the coronavirus.
In Kansas, Latinx people contract COVID-19 at a rate 5.7 times that of non-Hispanic residents for cases in which ethnicity was reported — 22.9% of cases are missing ethnicity data. Latinx people accounted for almost half of COVID-19 cases in Wyandotte County, where 29.8% of the population is Latinx, for cases where ethnicity data is known. Latinx people also face greater disparities in accessing testing.
‘We’ve seen this trend before’: The deadly disparities of COVID-19 for Kansas City’s Black community
COVID-19 is shining a light on health disparities that the Black community faces, but it isn’t the first disease to do so. In addition to higher rates of COVID-19, Black people in the Kansas City area have access to fewer permanent testing sites than the white population. The health disparities behind increased cases of COVID-19 among the Black community in Kansas City can be traced to several factors.
In Kansas City — and similarly across the U.S. — racial and ethnic minorities face worse outcomes and greater disparities when it comes to catching, surviving and being tested for COVID-19. In both Missouri and Kansas, Black people are contracting COVID-19 at rates higher than their share of the state population. On both sides of the state line, Black people are dying at a rate over two times their population share.
In the general population, most cases of COVID-19 are relatively mild. But so far, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older.
So far, Kansas and Missouri seem to have been relatively spared as coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19, hit hard in coastal areas like Seattle and New York. But case counts nationwide are questionable because tests have been in short supply.