Geographically isolated in a pandemic: A good or bad thing for people in rural counties?

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HANCOCK COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Seven of Tennessee’s 95 counties still report no confirmed coronavirus cases, according to numbers released Wednesday. Hancock County, one of the Volunteer State’s most rural, is among them.

Dr. David Kirschke, with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department, attributes it to their geography.

“Obviously, we never know if there could be undiagnosed cases in the community,” Kirschke said. “But certainly, Hancock County, at least in our region, is the most geographically isolated region. So, it would not be surprising if COVID-19 made it there later than in our other counties.”

U.S. Census Bureau data estimates the county’s population to be fewer than 7,000.

Dr. Kirschke pointed out the fact people living there are already fairly socially distanced can an advantage in a pandemic; however, their geography can be a disadvantage, too, especially if there is a second wave of COVID-19.

“We know from the pandemic in 1918, that some places where the pandemic basically skipped…the first wave came back strong, in a second wave, because you had all those basically people that were still susceptible to the illness haven’t been exposed to it before,” Kirschke explained. “Even if it did happen to pass us by this time, we could certainly get hit with a second wave. Any time there are lots of susceptible people in the population, there’s a risk for the outbreak to flare-up again.”

His advice, put simply, is this: Just because there are no cases in your county yet, doesn’t mean there won’t be any.

“We don’t want people to be falsely reassured by the number zero that’s on the state website for Hancock County,” he said.

He recommended everyone continue following the social distancing guidelines, set by federal, state, and local leaders.

The state health department also reports 14 negative coronavirus tests from Hancock County. Kirschke said Wednesday they have a sufficient supply of tests available, but few patients showing the necessary symptoms for testing.

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