The COVID-19 pandemic is causing extremely serious health and economic impacts across the country, and without a unified national response, those impacts promise to worsen. Communities like those in Appalachia and others with existing economic and health disparities are most vulnerable. Fahe is a Network working throughout Appalachia to build the American Dream. Our region has a perspective on severe health and economic distress.
The population of our region is older and sicker than the average American – creating a higher percentage of our population at elevated risk for complications from a COVID-19 infection. Since we as Americans want to look out for all Americans, our immediate response to the pandemic would be best served to consider these complications. Widespread closures of rural hospitals over the past several years and underfunding of those remaining have stretched the health system in rural Appalachia particularly thin. Staff, supplies, and equipment are all in short supply, which poses a threat to our pandemic response abilities. When the pandemic crests here and in other regions like ours, we want to do whatever we can to be prepared now. We know Americans believe in access to quality healthcare, no matter where they live.
The economic danger is just as real. Data has consistently shown that Appalachia still has not experienced the full positive effects of the Recovery from the 2008 Financial Crisis. Our communities experience steeper recessions, and slower recoveries, than America as a whole. Jobs proving prone to large-scale layoffs, like the food and service industry, tourism, and manufacturing, are found at a higher rate in Appalachia. As small employers underpin our economy, their widespread collapse or acquisition by outside interests would have dramatic long-term effects for our region.
Fahe’s policy recommendations protect Appalachian communities and everyday Americans in communities across the country: public health response; efforts to stabilize the economy; strengthening community organizations on the frontlines; and the way our country makes large structural investments.