When one thinks of Florida, the bustle of Miami Beach and the glitz of SoBe with its al fresco culture and Spring Breakers are what usually come to mind. But based on population density and other indicators, thirty counties in Florida are defined as rural, according to the Florida Department of Health. And as COVID-19 continues to spread across the state, rural counties could see their limited public-health infrastructure stretched thin, as hospitals may not be able to provide enough beds or ventilators in a pandemic.
One reason for this is that Florida did not expand the Affordable Care Act, which would have insured more low-income people. Yet hospitals are treating more uninsured people, providing care for which they are not being paid. This leaves rural health care systems ill-equipped to handle a pandemic or prevent damage from the fallout to local economies.
Another aggravating factor: residents tend to be older and there are fewer doctors per capita. And while some experts agree that rural areas are a little less at risk, “if they get one case and then another and so on, they may be ill-equipped to deal with it,” said Mary Jo Trepka, a professor of epidemiology at Florida International University’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work.
Immigrant farmworkers among the most vulnerable
With over 100,000 farmworkers toiling in its fields, Florida has one of the largest agricultural workforces in the country. In fact, the University of Florida estimates that over the course of the year more than 105,000 men and women work statewide.
But although farm work is generally back-breaking work, it is estimated that the annual income for a single worker is around $7,000, or about $10,000 for a family. Due to this, these workers, who according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) come mainly from Mexico and South and Central America, often lack medical insurance and fail to seek medical treatment, which makes them more vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19.