Rural counties in Georgia have fared worse for COVID-19 deaths and infections than urban counties in the state; but the situation is even worse for rural counties with large numbers of Black residents.
Rural counties with a higher proportion of Black residents have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths in the state. This is part of a pattern that shows worse health and well-being generally in these counties.
COVID-19 in Georgia
Infections and Deaths by Residence
There were 767 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 rural residents versus 612 per 100,000 urban residents, as of Aug. 31, 2020. Similarly, there were more COVID-19-related deaths among rural residents: 39 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 rural residents versus 23 per 100,000 urban residents.
Infections by Race
Blacks make up 31.5% of the state’s population, but accounted for 41.8% of COVID-19 infections as of Aug. 31, 2020. Similarly, Hispanics make up 9.4% of the state’s overall population, but accounted for 20.6% of infections, while whites make up 59.0% of the population and represented 55.7% of COVID-19 infections.
COVID-19 Deaths Follow a Consistent Pattern
Georgia Health Policy Center researchers identified the top 15 rural counties and top 15 urban counties by racial composition (Black, Hispanic, and white) and examined deaths from COVID-19 and from chronic conditions, as well as social drivers of health.
The pattern of excess deaths for COVID-19 is consistent with patterns for other leading causes of death in Georgia — heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer — and for obesity, a contributing factor to chronic diseases and worse COVID-19 outcomes seen in Georgia’s predominantly rural Black counties.
While data for Hispanic residents in Georgia is more limited, rural counties with the greatest Hispanic populations also have higher rates of deaths for leading chronic conditions than whites.
Social Factors Correlate With COVID-19 Deaths
There is a correlation between higher rates of COVID-19–related deaths and worse levels for common measures of social determinants of health.
Rural counties with the highest proportion of Black residents have lower high school graduation rates, a higher percentage of unemployment, and higher percentages of the population living in poverty. All of these factors are known to contribute to worse health outcomes, both generally and for COVID-19.
Policy Approaches to Address COVID-19 Inequities
Health equity is achieved when everyone has the opportunity for their best health. Achieving health equity, eliminating disparities, and improving the health and well-being of all U.S. population groups are major public health strategic goals for the country and the state.
Policies that target health disparities by promoting healthy living and disease prevention, early detection, and access to care may improve health equity.
Read the full brief, Health Equity And Covid-19: The Impact of Rural Residence on COVID-19 Disparities, here.