DES MOINES — Researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa will survey residents of 70 rural communities and document the health, socioeconomic and emotional effects of COVID-19 in Iowa small towns.
The survey data will inform state and federal officials as they tailor the response to the COVID-19 pandemic to fit rural communities, where strategies fashioned for urban regions may not be as effective, according to David Peters, ISU associate professor of sociology, who will lead the research.
ISU and UI received a $200,000 rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct the survey. Peters will work with UI professors Mark Berg in sociology and Nicole Novak in public health with guidance from representatives of local governments, public health organizations and relevant community and business organizations.
“We’re trying to get data as quickly as possible over the next two to three months and get that information to policymakers at all levels of government so they can make decisions to target programs to the specific needs of rural people,” Peters said.
The team will survey more than 12,000 Iowans on topics ranging from the availability of health care services to the reliability of high-speed internet to the economic stresses placed on a community by the pandemic. Peters said the survey results will remain confidential.
It’s imperative, Peters said, to gather data about rural America because policies enacted to fight the spread of the coronavirus in relatively dense urban areas may not be appropriate for rural areas. For instance, the survey data will offer insight into whether health care infrastructure and internet access are adequate to withstand the challenges of the pandemic among dispersed populations.
“Rent and mortgage assistance in urban areas is important because of the high cost of living,” Peters said. “But that may not be as important in rural areas. We’re hoping to shed some light on what assistance programs will benefit rural areas the most.”
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Households selected at random will receive a card in the mail by mid-August inviting them to fill out an online survey. Households that don’t want to participate online can request a paper survey. Residents who wish to volunteer for the survey will be able to fill out the online survey.
Three of the communities included in the project — Denison, Columbus Junction and Eagle Grove — are home to meatpacking and processing facilities, which have been susceptible to viral outbreaks, Peterson noted.
Researchers will work with the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, and Solidarity with Food Processing Workers in an effort to encourage participation by the large minority populations in those communities. The survey will be translated to a number of languages spoken in those communities.
The data gathered in the survey will be compared with longitudinal data gathered since the 1990s through the Iowa Small Towns Project, an ongoing effort led by Peters that examines quality-of life-issues in Iowa’s rural communities.
Among communities where residents will be surveyed are Atkins, Calmar, Center Point, Clarence, Columbus Junction, Garnavillo, George, Hills, Montezuma, Traer, Waukon and Williamsburg.
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