Hurricane Laura drilled Louisiana before moving north in late August, causing widespread destruction and death behind. A few weeks later, so many storms had been reported that the National Hurricane Center ran out of names and had to dip into the Greek alphabet for one striking the Texas coast.
A little more than two weeks earlier, a straight-line derecho had pounded several Midwest U.S. states, hitting Iowa particularly hard with property damage, crop destruction and death.
And, COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.
The disasters don’t spread COVID-19 as much as they intensify problems using tools that deal with the virus, a rural health expert at the University of North Carolina said.
“It’s going to have this long economic shock,” Mark Holmes, director of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, said, referring to the effects a local weather catastrophe can have on treating people who have the highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus. Holmes is a professor of health policy and management at UNC, director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center and co-director of the Sheps center’s Program on Health Care Economics and Finance.
A negative economic impact weaves its way into the healthcare system long after a few hours of storms, Holmes said. Farmers, for example, have less of a crop to sell. Urban dwellers pump their money into repairs and emergency expenses.
“And ultimately, the hospital will be one of the organizations that really experiences that, as people can’t pay their bills,” Holmes said. “There’s that economic impact that goes throughout the town, throughout the county, throughout the region.”
Long-term effects for people surviving being seriously ill with COVID-19 also can affect communities, ranging from the need to find care for sick, elderly family members or being of employment age but unable to work, he said.
“We think of COVID as a hotspot in southwest Georgia but, then it gets under control and the infection rate falls dramatically, and we move on to another part of the country where there’s another cluster bloom in terms of cases. But, you know, southwest Georgia isn’t done,” he said.
“That’s sort of a downstream effect that … we don’t have a deep understanding of, yet, in terms of the magnitude of what will come.”
This story was part of a multi-newsroom collaboration of IowaWatch, Wisconsin Watch, the Institute for Nonprofit News, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and Side Effects Public Media.