New research to examine COVID-19 impacts in rural communities

Published on July 9, 2020

A grant from the National Science Foundation will support a new research project aimed at understanding the socioeconomic, health, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in rural communities.

Portrait of Nicole Novak, postdoctoral research scholar at the Prevention Research Center in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Nicole Novak

Nicole Novak, assistant research scientist in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health, is a co-principal investigator on the new grant. Mark Berg, associate professor of sociology and criminology and director of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program in the UI Public Policy Center, is the principal investigator. This project is a collaboration with Iowa State University, where the principal investigator is David Peters.

The research, supported through the NSF’s RAPID program, will focus on the pandemic’s impact on the health and well-being of Iowans in smaller, more rural communities, especially ones with large minority populations in meat packing towns.

Although most COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have occurred in larger metropolitan cities, rural places are highly susceptible to the pandemic. Known risk factors for acute COVID-19 impairment, including a large proportion of seniors and those with underlying medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, chronic lung disease), are higher in rural areas.

The researchers will survey residents across 65 small towns in Iowa using an existing longitudinal rural panel from the Iowa Small Towns Project. The new data will be combined with previous survey results to address three research objectives:

  1. to document how COVID-19 has impacted the health, socioeconomic, and emotional well-being of residents in rural communities;
  2. to identify how communities have responded to these impacts and what needs remain unmet; and
  3. to understand how impacts, responses, and needs vary among ethnoracially diverse towns dominated by agricultural production and processing.