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COVID-19 has been smoldering in rural America for months. Here’s why we missed it.

A dangerous combination of limited resources, stigma, and politics made the coronavirus difficult to track in rural areas, allowing its spread to go largely unnoticed all summer.

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Record numbers of COVID-19 infections are straining hospital capacity in rural areas, stretching from Florida to Alaska. Medical workers are both struggling and finding ways to persevere.

The houses in Chevak spring from an open sweep of tundra and lakes. The small community in western Alaska, near the mouth of the Yukon River, is accessible only by plane. Yet in the last several weeks, almost a quarter of its roughly 1,000 residents have tested positive for coronavirus.

For months, health officials had hoped Alaska’s rural villages would be protected by their isolation. But the state now ranks among the worst 15 in the country in per capita case rate. So many Alaskans are sick that officials are falling behind with logging data, so the state may only be accounting for half the true cases, according to Alaska Public Media.

Similar patterns are playing out across rural America. In the Midwest and the West, record numbers of COVID-19 infections are straining hospital capacity. Due to a dangerous combination of limited medical resources, stigma, and politicized opinions around public health strategies such as masking, the virus has been difficult to track in these areas, allowing its spread to go unnoticed all summer. Now, as temperatures drop and people congregate...

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