Rising COVID-19 Cases in Rural America Highlight Urgency for Access to Broadband

 The Daily Yonder released an analysis this week highlighting surging COVID-19 cases in rural America for the fourth week in a row. Last week, 160 rural counties were added to the red-zone list, pushing COVID-19 cases in rural regions of the country past one million. Connect Americans Now (CAN) Executive Director Richard T. Cullen released the following statement Friday commenting on the report.

“The rising impact of the pandemic on rural communities highlights the urgent need for broadband connectivity and the telehealth solutions a broadband connection supports,” stated Cullen. “Telehealth can help patients – especially those who are elderly or managing acute or long-term health challenges – stay healthy, receive the treatment they need and avoid in-person visits to strained health care facilities dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients.”

“But to fully take advantage of telehealth solutions, communities must have access to broadband internet,” Cullen continued. “A lack of broadband connectivity will continue to limit telehealth options in rural areas battling rising cases.”

“Policymakers in Washington have taken several positive steps to expand broadband connectivity and access to telehealth, but much more must be done to completely tackle the digital divide,” Cullen said. “Congress must provide the resources necessary to eliminate the broadband gap in unserved and underserved communities with a technology neutral approach that prioritizes addressing specific challenges, like expanding access to telehealth for those who need it most.”

According to the Daily Yonder analysis, “Nearly 70% of the nation’s 1,976 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties are now in the red zone, a term used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to designate localities where the spread of the virus is out of control. Red-zone counties have a rate of at least 100 new infections per 100,000 in population.”

In response to the pandemic, Congress cleared barriers to greater usage of telehealth and provided funds for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a $200 million emergency program to expand telehealth access. The FCC is also in the process of implementing a $100 Connected Care Pilot program and, earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding access to telehealth solutions in rural America.

These are positive first steps. Learn more about what policymakers can do to completely eliminate the digital divide HERE.

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