Journal of Rural and Community Development – COVID-19 and Rural Canada

Vol. 16 No. 4 (2021): COVID-19 and Rural Canada: Rural Impacts and Resilience

The COVID-19 Vulnerability Landscape: Susceptibility to COVID-19 Across Rural Versus Urban Health Regions of Canada

Rural communities are often portrayed in the research literature and popular media as being disadvantaged and ‘vulnerable’. This paper examines the extent to which rural health regions in Canada are more vulnerable than other health regions in terms of contracting COVID-19 and developing serious illness from this virus that leads to death. Data include published numbers of cases of and deaths from COVID-19 in each health region across Canada. Other data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) documents the higher rates of ‘vulnerability’ in rural health regions, according to (a) their socio-demographic conditions (income, education, age), and (b) the rates of ‘underlying health conditions’ which would make individuals more susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19. Despite these vulnerabilities, which are consistent with other research on rural areas in Canada, COVID-19 rates are found to be higher in metropolitan areas—although there is some variation in this pattern by province. In no provinces is the rate of death per case of COVID-19 highest in rural areas. Overall, in Canada, deaths per case from COVID-19 are higher in metropolitan than in rural health regions, challenging the notion of rural areas being only and always disadvantaged.

[Excerpt]  While  acknowledging  the  importance  of  rural  variety,  if  we  adopt  a  broad  rural development  perspective  on  the  conditions  in  rural  communities  and  regions  in Canada, several specific challenges and assets emerge, relative to pandemic impacts. Challenges include ageing population levels; lower overall health outcomes; limited health care capacity; distance to services; variable internet, broadband access;lower levels  of  education;  lower  income  levels;  and  a  high  level  of  essential  service designations associated with rural employment, particularly in the resource and food production  sectors. 

Rural communities and regions are, however, endowed with considerable assets that have  proven  important  in  responding  to  the  pandemic  crisis.  Most  notably,  high levels of  social  capital commonly  noted in  rural  areas  have spurred innovative support responses. The strong presence and role  of the  voluntary sector have also clearly  risen  to  the  challenge  of  dynamic,  flexible,  and  tailored interventions in communities. Aside from the immediate impacts, it is also clear—although not yet fully  understood—that  the  comparative  affordability  of  rural  housing(when compared  with  urban  metropolitan  regions),  combined  with high quality  of  life dynamics, have  spurred  an  in-migration  of  urban  residents  into select rural communities(although not all rural regions, as evidence to support the importance of not assuming a homogenous interpretation of rural). 

The COVID-19 Vulnerability Landscape: Susceptibility to COVID-19 Across Rural Versus Urban Health Regions of Canada
E. Dianne Looker
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