Rural vs. Urban: Per capita mortality rate from COVID-19 continues to ravage rural Oklahoma

Coronavirus

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Urban areas in Oklahoma are seeing more total cases of COVID-19, but rural areas are seeing a higher case rate causing pressure inside rural hospitals and funeral homes.

Recent research at Oklahoma State University reveals the gap between rural COVID-19 deaths and urban COVID-19 deaths is widening.

“Rural Oklahomans are disproportionally dying,” Associate Professor of Rural Health at Oklahoma State University Dr. Randolph Hubach said.

According to this graph posted by Dr. Randolph Hubach, since April 2020, per capita mortality in rural Oklahoma has exceeded urban Oklahoma.

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Rural to urban graph

Rural Oklahoma constitutes 34 percent of the state’s population and 39 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma.

“There is low access to care, hospital closures, not enough providers and a cultural thing where rural individuals treat care later on,” Dr. Hubach said. “We have lot of misunderstanding or misinformation in rural communities as well.”

Dr. Hubach adds the resistance from rural communities on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 will affect the vaccine rollout across the state.

In response, rural funeral homes are feeling the pain.

“During a time of death, there is always grieving, but what we have seen the past year is that it is elevated,” said J. Cooper with Cooper Funeral Home in Tecumseh.

Cooper tells KFOR he’s feeling strained as he shifts space to make things work. In the past 60 days, Cooper says he has scheduled more funerals than the entire year of 2020.

“It’s been stressful,” Cooper said. “It’s been taxing on our staff. They are emotionally full.”

Cooper, a fourth-generation owner of the funeral home, has been offering closure to Oklahoma families since 1906.

“We just want them to have a good mental image for the family,” Cooper said. “We want to provide a lasting image of the person instead of the idea of the person in lockdown or at a nursing home. That is not a positive image.”

As an added layer of protection, Cooper has now hired another team out of his pocket to embalm someone who has died of COVID-19. He tells KFOR it’s to keep the virus from potentially spreading to employees inside the funeral home.

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