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Rural COVID-19 Innovations: Helping Community Members

Examples of how rural communities and organizations are innovating to help community members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • COVID-19 Town Hall Series
    November 22, 2021 - To convey COVID-19 information and public heath recommendations, Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula hosts a monthly town hall series on TV, radio, and online platforms. Each town hall features a panel including public health officials, clinicians, educators, and other local experts who discuss a COVID-related topic and answer community members' questions. So far, there have been 21 town halls featuring over 100 different speakers. Program coordinators plan to expand the town halls to discuss broader health issues.
    Source: Steven Elmer, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan Technological University
  • Nemaha County Hospital CEO Marty Fattig's daily COVID-19 updates
    January 13, 2021 - Starting on March 31st of 2019, the CEO of Nemaha County Hospital Marty Fattig has created daily updates on the COVID-19 virus, sent out first as a memo to staff and then posted on their website for the public to view. As the community the hospital serves is largely rural, keeping its patients and the local area informed has been a crucial part of slowing the spread of the virus. Each update contains information on:
    • The total number of cases and deaths in the U.S
    • The number of new cases and deaths on the previous day
    • The total number of cases and deaths for Nebraska
    • The number of cases and deaths for Nebraska on the previous day
    Recent updates have also featured information about the hospital's vaccination efforts and plans for the future. Marty Fattig closes each update as follows: "Thanks for all you do for us! Be kind to each other!"
    Source: CEO's Daily COVID-19 Updates Keep a Rural Community Informed, American Hospital Association
  • Meal program for COVID-positive patients and family members
    December 23, 2020 - Lakewood Health Systems adapted their free frozen meal program to include patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Instead of going out into the community to stock up on groceries for themselves and their families, thereby increasing the risk of spreading the virus, Lakewood Engage gives COVID-positive patients two weeks of frozen meals designed by a dietician. This allows them access to nutritious food that takes very little preparation as they recover from the effects of the virus. Should they indicate that dependent family members will also be affected, meals will be provided for the entire family, reducing stress on recovering patients and their dependents.
  • Gift cards and matching funds to support local businesses
    November 19, 2020 - To help local businesses in Richland Center stay afloat during the pandemic, Southwest Partners, a coalition of individuals and community organizations, created the COVID CARING CASH program. When community members bought $25 worth of $5 gift cards, they received a bonus $10 from program sponsors. Community members spent the gift cards at participating businesses, and these businesses were reimbursed by Southwest Partners. Overall, 23,335 cards were sold, totaling $31,185 in matching funds and a total economic impact of approximately $300,000-$360,000.
    Source: Mick Cosgrove, Southwest Partners, and Rachel Peller, Wisconsin Partners
  • Telephone trees and personal calls to inform community members about COVID-19
    South Carolina
    October 23, 2020 - Hollywood, SC, municipal leadership shares COVID-19 information through its town website, social media, email, and press releases, but not all community members have adequate internet access to view this information. Clergy use telephone trees and personal phone calls to make sure high-risk individuals such as older adults and people with disabilities stay informed.
  • Delivering consistent messaging to immigrant communities
    October 22, 2020 - To make sure Hmong and Latino communities in urban Marathon County and surrounding rural counties were receiving consistent messaging in their preferred language about COVID-19, local and state organizations trained eight people to become part-time community liaisons. Liaisons learned how to answer community members' questions through role-playing and how to model preventive behaviors like mask-wearing and handwashing. From May to July, the initiative worked with over 1,000 families.
  • Library increases access to internet and telehealth for community members
    October 22, 2020 - Thanks to a grant, a local wireless internet service provider serving Pottsboro, TX, has put wireless equipment on water towers, and people in low-income households with students can check out portable Wi-Fi routers from the Pottsboro Public Library. A library network funded three neighborhood access stations for the community. The Pottsboro Public Library director even let patrons use her office for telehealth sessions. With an additional grant, the library is working on launching a telehealth program, including creating a room specifically for telehealth.
  • Creating a free wireless internet service for students
    September 21, 2020 - Lockhart Independent School District surveyed its students' families in March and found that at least 40% of students did not have reliable internet access. The school district diverted money from other projects to create a free wireless internet service. This project involved building towers, installing home routers, and installing antennas.
  • Paying restaurants to provide free meals to people in need
    September 8, 2020 - Vermont Everyone Eats! is a program that pays restaurants in rural Vermont to provide free meals to people in need. With funds from the CARES Act, the Southeast Vermont Community Action agency pays $10 per meal to restaurants and stipulates that 10% of the food come from local farms. Organizations like food shelves can receive meals in bulk to deliver to their clients. Since early August, this program has provided about 650 meals a day.
  • Using cultural competency to identify gaps in care
    August 11, 2020 - When a coronavirus outbreak occurred at a seafood company, Samaritan Health Services discovered that over 50% of people testing positive were Hispanic, many of whom carpooled to work and lived in congregate housing. Samaritan Health Services, Centro de Ayuda (a center offering education, language support, and service referrals), Lincoln County Public Health, and community members participate in biweekly meetings to discuss gaps in healthcare access and ways they can improve healthcare for this population.
    Source: Living and Learning through COVID-19, AHA Members in Action Case Study
  • Distributing cloth facemasks to water and wastewater operators
    Arizona, California, Nevada
    June 30, 2020 - RCAC worked with California's Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network to deliver cloth facemasks to tribal and rural water/wastewater offices. RCAC used its Tribal Circuit Rider program, which travels to tribal communities to provide technical assistance and trainings, to deliver the masks. The Tribal Circuit Rider program expanded to include rural, nontribal communities on its circuit and delivered over 5,500 masks in California. A few thousand masks have been delivered in Arizona and Nevada under similar efforts.
    Source: RCAC Joins Collaborative Effort to Distribute Cloth Masks, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC)
  • Program for rural people without computers
    May 27, 2020 - Due to the pandemic, many people need to work and learn from home. Some people in rural communities have access to broadband but can't afford to buy a computer or replace a poorly working one. Programs in Texas collect donated laptops, wipe their disks clean (so there's no data/information from the previous owner), load them with a free operating system and other programs, and give them to people in need, especially those who now have to complete their ESL classes online. The article below provides contact information for those looking to start a similar program in their communities.
  • Community resources hub for agencies
    New York
    May 15, 2020 - A COVID-19 community resources hub was created by Common Ground Health, S2AY Rural Health Network, the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System, and the Systems Integration Project of the United Way of Greater Rochester. This hub allows agencies to share resources, updates, and guidance with one another. Hub topics include child safety and childcare, food, housing services, and older adult services.
    Source: Kathi Lynch, Health Planning Research Analyst, Common Ground Health
  • Determining churches' capacity to host health and human services projects
    North Carolina
    May 10, 2020 - The North Carolina Office of Rural Health and the Wesley Community Development Corporation, NC United Methodist Association, created a survey to determine churches' capacity to host blood drives and programs for day care, food assistance, and serving homeless COVID-19 patients or patients without caregiver support. Survey results go to county Emergency Management System officials.
    Source: Glenn D. Field, Community Development Specialist, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
  • Foundation supporting information dissemination and relief efforts
    May 8, 2020 - In Alaska, Rasmuson Foundation is supporting public radio and weekly newspapers so they can still provide accurate COVID-19 information after losing advertising and sponsorship revenue. In addition, the foundation set aside $2 million for COVID-19 relief efforts and gathered leaders together to create the Alaska COVID-19 response fund.
    Source: Leveraging Deep Community Ties: Rural Funders Tackle COVID-19, National Center for Family Philanthropy
  • Protecting and educating farmworkers
    New York
    April 28, 2020 - To protect farmworkers and slow the spread of COVID-19, the Cornell Farmworker Program is coordinating an effort to make and distribute face masks. As of April 28, volunteers had made over 1,400 cloth masks. Health clinic workers wearing protective gear deliver the masks, provide information like local health resources, and administer COVID-19 tests. In addition, the Cornell Farmworker Program sends text updates and hosts weekly webinars in English and Spanish and provides materials in some indigenous languages.
  • Using rural transit to deliver food and medicine and drive those who are homeless
    Michigan, Pennsylvania
    April 23, 2020 - In Michigan, Charlevoix County Transit delivers groceries (including food pantry deliveries and senior center-provided meals) and prescription medications to the homes of older adults and at-risk individuals. The agency also provides transportation to people who need a ride to a school food program or a local restaurant offering free or discounted meals to students. In addition, the agency waived its fare for all riders and eligibility requirements for medical transportation services. In Pennsylvania, rabbittransit, which serves 10 counties, is providing transportation to people who are homeless so they can access safe quarantine locations and testing facilities.
  • Providing Wi-Fi hotspots for those who need internet
    April 22, 2020 - Three telecommunications companies (two cooperatives, one privately owned) created 23 Wi-Fi hotspots in 10 rural counties. The hotspots, located in large parking lots so people can stay in their vehicles, are geared toward people completing schoolwork, but anyone can use them.
  • Translating health information into Spanish and educating community members
    Puerto Rico
    April 22, 2020 - An epidemiologist, public health professionals, and graduate students in Puerto Rico are educating community members about COVID-19 prevention. The CoaliciĆ³n Comunitaria COVID-19 de Puerto Rico has three working groups: Education, led by a licensed public health educator; Resources, led by a data scientist; and Epidemiology and Social Determinants of Health Group, led by an epidemiologist and doctoral student. Coalition members take information from the CDC and WHO; translate it into Spanish; and post the information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In addition, the coalition has a Spanish-language website with graphs and maps of COVID-19 cases and deaths along with resources such as pharmacies and restaurants that deliver and telehealth services available in Puerto Rico. The coalition also developed a training session for community leaders.
    Source: Mariela Alvarado Ortiz, Epidemiologist and Doctor of Public Health student, CoaliciĆ³n para un Puerto Rico Saludable, Inc.; Jennis Vicente Feliciano, data scientist, Data Science Consultants, LLC
  • Reaching students without adequate internet access
    Arkansas, Tennessee
    April 19, 2020 - Every weekday, Arkansas's PBS affiliate provides television programming that's connected to the state's distance learning curriculum and geared toward preschool through eighth grade students. Local educators, who all have won teacher of the year awards, introduce each day's episode and close out the episode by reflecting on the different lessons. In Meigs County, TN, a special education teacher created printed packets for his students so they could learn from home without needing internet access.
  • Childcare services, meals, and homework help
    April 16, 2020 - ARcare, a Federally Qualified Health Center, provides child care for school-aged children of families who cannot work from home. Every day, students receive breakfast, lunch, and a snack and help with their homework.
    Source: Tracy Holleman, Community Development Director, ARcare
  • Community engagement Facebook videos about substance use and recovery
    North Carolina
    April 16, 2020 - To reach those with substance use disorder and their families as they self-isolate, the Drug-Free Burke team of Burke Recovery and Burke Substance Abuse Network (BSAN) is creating videos and posting them on Facebook. The videos fall into three categories: Real Talk with Real People (roundtable discussions about substance use/misuse), Recovering Families (fun activities for children), and Journey to Hope (programming and interviews celebrating recovery). BSAN provides services in urban Burke County but extends its community engagement efforts to rural Caldwell, McDowell, and Rutherford counties.
    Source: Kim James, Executive Director, Burke Recovery
  • Delivering 30-day supplies of food to tribal members and reservation residents
    April 16, 2020 - The Yurok Health and Human Services Food Distribution Program along with other tribal organizations are delivering 30-day supplies of food to any enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe (or any non-tribal member living on the Yurok Reservation) who lost their jobs or had work hours reduced due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Vulnerable residents, including elders, are served first. The boxes of food include meat and produce as well as dry goods.
  • Online self-assessment for people potentially exposed to COVID-19
    April 16, 2020 - ARcare, a Federally Qualified Health Center, worked with a telemedicine platform to design an online self-assessment tool. People who may have been exposed to COVID-19 can assess their symptoms without going to a clinic and potentially exposing others. In addition, the online tool helps connect users with a provider via telehealth if needed.
    Source: Tracy Holleman, Community Development Director, ARcare
  • Screening childcare employees and clients
    April 16, 2020 - The ARcare Center for Education and Wellness (ACEW), a Federally Qualified Health Center that serves 6-week-old infants to 6th grade students, now screens anyone, including employees, therapy partners, and the children, who enters the building for COVID-19 symptoms. Parents are not allowed to enter the building, and children are escorted from the entrance to the appropriate classroom and vice versa.
    Source: Tracy Holleman, Community Development Director, ARcare
  • Homeless shelter protecting employees and clients
    April 15, 2020 - Family Promise Mat-Su serves those in Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley who are homeless, facing possible homelessness, or transitioning out of homelessness. To prevent COVID-19, employees are working from home. If employees need to retrieve anything from the main office, they schedule to visit when others aren't there, wear gloves and masks, and clean surfaces. With shelter applicants, Family Promise Mat-Su conducts phone interviews and has a secured mailbox for people to drop off or pick up applications. In addition, the organization's traditional rotation model of housing families has been replaced with one location. Volunteers who would normally house or serve these families can instead connect with them virtually.
    Source: Ginger Bear, Executive Director, Family Promise Mat-Su
  • Feeding schoolchildren and their families
    Kentucky, New York
    April 14, 2020 - Some school districts in rural Kentucky created grab-and-go sites for families to pick up meals, and some districts designated vehicles to drive to different communities and neighborhoods to drop off food. In New York's rural Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, families can pick up meals at any distribution site, even if it's outside their own school district.
    Source: Serving School Meals in Challenging Times, State of Childhood Obesity
  • Website for community information and resources
    April 13, 2020 - The Cook County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Coronavirus Response Hub provides updated information for community members. This information includes food (Grocery Finder, Takeout Food, Community Services, and Student Meal Pickup Program), mental well-being, healthcare facilities' entrance/screening procedures, and frequently asked questions. In addition, the website lists COVID-19 symptoms and ways for people to protect themselves and others.
    Source: Grace Grinager, Public Health Supervisor
  • Using buses to bring Wi-Fi to students
    April 12, 2020 - Millard School District is parking buses equipped with Wi-Fi in neighborhoods where students don't have adequate internet access. In addition, the district boosted its schools' internet signals so students can drive up and access the internet in the school parking lots. The buses had already been outfitted with Wi-Fi so students could complete homework while traveling to games and other extracurricular events.
  • Community volunteer Facebook page
    April 9, 2020 - A private Facebook group with over 1,400 members has become a one-stop shop of COVID-19 information and community volunteer efforts in Bradford, PA. The Facebook page also lists a hotline number providing information about different community resources. The group filled four pickup trucks with food to deliver to those financially impacted by the crisis, and other volunteers are sewing masks for healthcare professionals and others.
    Source: Lori Bebko, Administrator/Volunteer for "Helping Bradford, PA During Coronavirus"
  • Community mutual aid
    April 7, 2020 - The Western Massachusetts Community Mutual Aid is an online tool for community members to request help for services like translation, getting supplies, or financial aid; volunteer for tasks like driving people or completing errands; or donate money to help individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. Community members can also create neighborhood pods for neighbors to connect with and help out one another.
    Source: Kirby Lecy, Project Coordinator, Massachusetts State Office of Rural Health
  • Foundation awarding grants to organizations to offer food, child care, and other support
    New York
    April 2, 2020 - The Adirondack Foundation, partnering with businesses and other donors like the Cloudsplitter Foundation and United Way of the Adirondack Region, created the Special and Urgent Needs Fund. The grants from this fund went to different organizations' efforts like delivering food, providing financial assistance to healthcare workers, and childcare services.
  • Pop-up food pantry
    Iowa, Wisconsin
    April 2, 2020 - SWCAP's Pop-Up Food Pantry program was created to deliver fresh food to rural residents who may not be able to access a grocery store. A local Head Start donated the bus, the Alliant Energy Foundation donated money, and local businesses helped turn the bus into a mobile food pantry with refrigerators, storage, and shelving. The bus travels to Grant, Lafayette, Iowa, and Richland counties in Wisconsin, and program coordinators hope to add another county to its route. Coordinators schedule weekly Pop-Ups in rural communities and deliver to senior apartments on a regular basis. Delivery people wear gloves and face masks when handing out food.
    Source: Wally Orzechowski, Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program
  • Shelter-in-place services for seniors
    April 2, 2020 - Since Humboldt County is under a shelter-in-place order, SoHum Health is calling its local seniors to check in and provide assistance. During these calls, hospital and clinic staff provide wellness checks, telehealth visits with seniors' providers as needed, prescription refills and delivery, and information about grocery deliveries. Healy Senior Center, working with markets and volunteer drivers, is coordinating grocery delivery, and the Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce is donating face masks to the volunteer drivers. To learn more, see this April 2020 American Hospital Association case study featuring SoHum Health.
    Source: Kristen Rees, Manager of Quality, Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District
  • Food delivery service by local market
    April 1, 2020 - Camas Organic Market in rural Hot Springs, Montana, is helping customers maintain social distancing by offering groceries through delivery or curbside pick-up only. Customers can share their grocery lists with the market via phone, email, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger or knock on the door and an employee will shop for them. The market is also working on a way for customers to order groceries online. Customers can pick up their groceries for free or have them delivered for a $3.00 fee ($5.00 for customers who live up to 10 miles outside of Hot Springs).
    Source: Frances DeForrest, BSN, RN
  • School bus drivers deliver homework and meals
    March 31, 2020 - Every day, school bus drivers deliver homework packets and sack lunches to Navajo Nation students in San Juan County. Monument Valley High School uses its buses to deliver breakfast and lunch every school day to students in need, and educators have been helping the kitchen staff make and deliver these meals. Washington County School District and Carbon School District also deliver meals via bus.
  • Allowing restaurants to sell excess food
    March 30, 2020 - The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association partnered with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to allow restaurants to sell food and pantry items, which only grocery and retail stores could sell before. Restaurants that want to participate need to receive guidance on properly labeling food to sell directly to customers. The partnership allows restaurants to sell excess food and gives customers more options when grocery stores are overwhelmed.