Thursday, August 6, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXI): Update from across California

Here are just a few coronavirus stories out of California in recent weeks.  In fact, one story is nearly two months old and reporting on events from mid-April--four months ago.  The common theme is places in California considered rural by some measure, with a big focus on the vulnerability of agricultural communities, mostly LatinX, in the Golden State.  

First, out of Mono County, population 14,202, which I've written about several times in recent months, is this headline from the Los Angeles Times, "Coronavirus surge linked to restaurants in Mammoth Lakes lands county on state watchlist.  Prior posts featuring Mono County are here and here, posts X and IV of this series on coronavirus in rural America, so back in March and April.  Both of those posts also concern the challenge of non-residents or seasonal residents bringing the virus into this remote nonmetro county in the eastern Sierra region of California. 

Second, out of Imperial County, population 174,528, a coronavirus hotspot.  This story by Gustavo Solis was published in the San Diego Union Tribune in mid June, and the headline is "Imperial County has highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the state; it wants to reopen anyway."  Here's an excerpt that describes a scene from two months earlier, at Easter:
Inside the hospital, roughly 50 percent of all in-patients have COVID-19. The intensive care unit on the second floor has been unofficially renamed the COVID wing.

More than 200 COVID-19 patients have been transferred out of Imperial County, a rural community bordered by Arizona and Mexico that has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in California.
This is interesting because news of the outbreak in Imperial County was much later emerging into the California media.   An Associated Press story out of Imperial County today is here; its focus is an inspiring Vietnamese-American physician working in Calexico.  Prior blog posts mentioning Imperial County in relation to coronavirus are here, here and here.  

Here's a story by Melody Gutierrez, dateline Sacramento, about the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak in the Central Valley.  The Valley, which includes Sacramento, is rural (at least in the agricultural sense) in the popular imaginary, albeit rarely by the Census Bureau definition.  Here's an excerpt from the story:
Newsom said the targeted approach on eight counties — San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare, and Kern counties — comes as the state is seeing widening disparities in deaths and infections of Latinos statewide. Those increases are particularly felt in the Central Valley, where Latinos make up a higher percentage of residents.

The strike teams will be deployed later this week.

“This disease continues to grow in the state of California, it continues to spread, but not evenly,” Newsom said Monday while speaking at Diamond Nuts in Stockton. “It is disproportionately impacting certain communities and certain parts of the state.”
And here's a story by Anita Chabria for the Los Angeles Times out of French Camp, California, population 3,376, in metropolitan San Joaquin County.  The headline speaks volumes:  "This county knew coronavirus could ravage its farmworkers. Why didn’t officials stop it?"  

Here's a related Los Angeles Times story from July 29 about California's agricultural workers, also characterized as "essential," which the state has struggled to protect.  Again, the headline is provocative, "California won’t conquer the coronavirus, and fully reopen, until it can protect essential workers." A related story by Jill Cowan of the New York Times is here.  

A Capital Public Radio story about Downieville, the county seat of Sierra County, is here.  Its focus is on the ecotourism economy and how the coronavirus has decimated that "industry" in Gold Country towns like this one.  In many ways, it implicates the same issues as the Mono County story I featured at the top of this post:  What's a nonmetro county so reliant on ecotourism to do in a pandemic era?  A barely pre-pandemic post, from mid-February, out of Downieville is here.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXX): "Why we're not surprised by what's happening in Yakima County, Washington"

This is the second in a two-part series on rural jail responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Both this post and the prior one (out of Georgia) are by scholars associated with the Vera Institute's rural jails project. This post is by Marisa V. Cervantes and Sandra Yokley of Washington State University, Pullman:

Compared to large cities, rates of COVID-19 are increasing faster in rural counties, agricultural communities, and smaller cities. The less urbanized areas have limited access to resources, leaving these communities in a heightened vulnerability. This lack of safety can have devastating impacts on their ability to recover. As we continue to think about how to maintain safety in the face of restructuring communities, it is vital that these areas be included in the conversation.

Yakima County, Washington, has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the state. There have been upwards of 7,300 cases as of June 30, 2020. Of those, 49.8% of the cases have been tied to Hispanic/Latinx people, compared to 18.5% of whites (even though whites make up 42.7% of the population while Hispanic/Latinx make up 49%). Amidst the high rates of coronavirus, the county has had several recent events including a jailbreak and various protests, both in response to the pandemic.

In the face of the power differential split that exists in areas like Yakima, whose economy is highly dependent on food processing industries, we see a divided community. The agricultural economy employs about a third of the workforce, most of whom are Hispanic/Latinx and/or undocumented. These agricultural workers’ protests are centered on the need for stricter safety measures and protection, while another group of non-agricultural workers is opposing the state mandates to practice social distancing and wear protective gear out in public. Despite the division, both groups share a concern of public safety within the community.

The devastating effect of COVID-19 and the subsequent events happening in the area do not come as a surprise because Yakima is a socially vulnerable county. The CDC measures social vulnerability using factors including but not limited to socioeconomic status, minority status, crowded housing, and lack of access to adequate transportation. Socially vulnerable counties like Yakima, which ranks in the top 10% of socially vulnerable counties across the nation, are less likely to prevent suffering and recover from disasters such as COVID-19. This is why a rethinking of safety and the ways in which these counties operate is imperative.

These conversations and calls to action center on what can and should be done when what communities desire and require in terms of safety diverge from what the police can provide. Governments and policymakers thus far have viewed public safety as something to be handled by the police. This paradigm is reflected through local, state, and national budgets, wherein law enforcement agencies often secure a high proportion of the financial resources. These efforts demonstrate the county, state, or country’s commitment to safety and affirm that the police are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the communities they work for, no matter the cost. Whether governments, policymakers, and police prioritize safety is not what is being called into question in the recent—but not new—discourses taking place across the nation. The voices speaking out against the escalation of COVID-19 and its disproportionate impacts on minorities and communities of color, like those in Yakima County, need to be heard. These calls for justice, paired with those protesting the wrongful death of Black bodies by police officers across the nation, highlight that law enforcement as the primary avenue for public safety is insufficient and deadly in the wake of these pandemics.

While the protests happening in Yakima County by minority agricultural workers may appear, on the surface, to be about hazard pay and protective gear, the root of their actions is fear — the fear that comes with not feeling safe, not feeling protected. The police are not able to bring the safety these vulnerable people seek, but there are organizations that can. Many community service organizations, while better equipped to handle community needs, have been forgotten by county, state, and national governments because of the prevailing notion that police are best suited to handle issues of safety. Yakima County, like many other socially vulnerable counties, has social service organizations that are in high demand and have the ability to best serve the community and advocate for their rights. What they don’t have are the resources to operate successfully.

Organizations that address issues tied to the vulnerability of residents such as crisis services (Lower Valley Crisis & Support), medical assistance (Yakima County Department of Emergency Medical Services), housing assistance (OIC of Washington), and more, can be better utilized and supported by those who are trained to deal with community wellbeing. This can happen through diverting funding from law enforcement agencies to local social service organizations. Calls to defund the police have surged across the nation as protestors, activists, and organizations express their discontent for the way safety in their communities has been handled.

In protest, people are putting themselves in harm's way to demonstrate their longing for and commitment to community-driven safety. While ideally, the partnerships between law enforcement and community service organizations should have already existed, it is not too late. Governments, police, and community service organizations can work together to adjust responses to safety and to work on funding the organizations that can create a safer community.

* * * 
Another recent post out of Yakima County is here.  

Monday, August 3, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXIX): Impoverished Arizona school district struggles with decision to re-open or not

Eli Saslow reports for Washington Post from Hayden, Arizona, population 662, under the headline, "I'm sorry, but it's a fantasy."  Here's an excerpt quoting the superintendent of the Hayden-Winkleman School District, Jeff Gregorich, who was interviewed by Saslow as part of an oral history series featuring voices of the pandemic.
The governor has told us we have to open our schools to students on August 17th, or else we miss out on five percent of our funding. I run a high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona. We’re 90 percent Hispanic and more than 90 percent free-and-reduced lunch. These kids need every dollar we can get. But covid is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?

This is your classic one-horse town. Picture John Wayne riding through cactuses and all that. I’m superintendent, high school principal and sometimes the basketball referee during recess. This is a skeleton staff, and we pay an average salary of about 40,000 a year. I’ve got nothing to cut. We’re buying new programs for virtual learning and trying to get hotspots and iPads for all our kids. Five percent of our budget is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Where’s that going to come from? I might lose teaching positions or basic curriculum unless we somehow get up and running.
I’ve been in the building every day, sanitizing doors and measuring out space in classrooms. We still haven’t received our order of Plexiglas barriers, so we’re cutting up shower curtains and trying to make do with that. It’s one obstacle after the next. Just last week I found out we had another staff member who tested positive, so I went through the guidance from OSHA and the CDC and tried to figure out the protocols. I’m not an expert at any of this, but I did my best with the contact tracing.
An earlier post featuring this school district, which lost a teacher to COVID-19 in the spring, is here.  

Another compelling oral history interview from this series is here.  No dateline is given, just a reference to the intercoastal waterway in North Carolina.  The woman interviewed works at a convenience store, and she talks about folks refusing to wear masks in spite of the state mandate--even as she cannot afford to give up her job there and thus must expose herself to the risk the customers pose.  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXVIII): "Assume the virus is everywhere," Dr. Birx warns rural folks

Here's what Dr. Deborah Birx said today on the CNN program “State of the Union” about the country being in a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, as reported in the New York Times:
“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” Dr. Birx said, adding that rural areas have not been spared. “So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune.” 
She emphasized the significance of asymptomatic transmission. “If you have an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive if you have individuals in your household with co-morbidities,” she said.
Meanwhile, from the Washington Post
Sturgis, S.D., is bracing for more than 250,000 bikers to descend on the city next week for a motorcycle rally that the Associated Press reported could be the largest event so far during the pandemic. More than 60 percent of residents surveyed by the city said the rally should be delayed, but local businesses persuaded the council to move forward, according to the AP.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXVII): Georgia's rural jails respond to the pandemic

This is the first in a two-part series on rural jail responses to the coronavirus pandemic.  Both this post and the next one are from scholars associated with the Vera Institute's rural jails project.  This post is by Amairini Sanchez (PhD student) and Sarah Shannon (Associate Professor of Sociology), University of Georgia Rural Jails Research Hub.

As the coronavirus pandemic threatens incarcerated populations across the country, media attention has overwhelmingly focused on jails in large metropolitan areas. Scant attention has been given to how rural jails are responding to this crisis. In this post, we use data from the NYU Public Safety Lab to show how jail incarceration rates have changed in Georgia in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also cull together evidence from news stories in rural Georgia jurisdictions to illustrate the strategies that local authorities say they are taking to lower jail incarceration in their counties. Our analysis shows that rural courts and jails in Georgia have responded strategically to lower jail populations as the current crisis has evolved.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a Statewide Judicial Emergency order on March 14, 2020 which affected all courts and judicial proceedings across the state. To illustrate the effect of this order on jail populations in rural Georgia counties, we graphed the percentage change in jail populations before and after March 14, 2020. The yellow bars on the first graph show that prior to this order (from February 28 to March 14, 2020) many rural Georgia jail populations were increasing (12 out of 20 with available data). During the month that followed March 14th, sharp declines occurred in rural jail populations across the state as shown by the blue bars in the graph. Most rural counties with available data have experienced more than 20 percent drops in their jail populations. These declines erased and, in most cases, eclipsed any gains in population prior to the statewide judicial emergency order.

Local newspaper reports shed some light into the dynamics behind these reductions in jail populations. Some rural county sheriffs in Georgia are noting a decrease in crime, which they attribute to stay-at-home orders and other COVID-19 effects. For example, a report in The Polk County Standard Journal highlights how the local crime rate is significantly lower than this same time last year in Polk County, with overall arrests 45 percent lower than in 2019. Similarly, reports in both Bulloch and Habersham counties quote local officials describing that there are fewer traffic-related offenses due to fewer people on the roads.

Beyond changes in crime and traffic offenses, news reports detail how law enforcement agencies have made changes on the front-end during arrests and bookings. State troopers and local police departments report changing their arrest procedures and are prioritizing serious offenses. Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bill Black notes that his agency is “asking LEO's to issue citations where possible instead of transporting to the jail.”

On the back-end, there is also some evidence that rural county sheriffs in Georgia have been working closely with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to allow for more releases from jails. In Habersham County, Sheriff Joe Terrell indicates that probation and own-recognizance (OR) bonds have led to a decrease in the jail population. Similarly, in Lumpkin County, Sheriff Stacy Jarrard reported they have reduced their jail population by working with the courts to release individuals through OR bonds. In the Enotah Judicial Circuit, encompassing seven counties in northeast Georgia (Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns, White, and Lumpkin), District Attorney Jeff Langley instructed county court officials to be “more flexible than normal” in issuing bonds, especially in cases where individuals are charged with nonviolent offenses and are unable to pay their bond. Similar measures have been taken in Bulloch County, particularly, granting releases only to people charged with non-violent offenses who are more vulnerable to the virus on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, the available data show that the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to a significant decline in rural jail incarceration in Georgia. The Statewide Judicial Emergency order implemented on March 14th set these declines in motion, but news reports from select jurisdictions show that local officials in rural counties have subsequently employed several strategies to reduce bookings and increase releases. In light of the limited resources generally available in rural areas, funding and guidance to support sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the virus within the walls is of utmost importance, in addition to ongoing efforts to reduce populations overall.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXVI): From a town and school in exurban Atlanta

This story appeared on the front page of today's New York Times, dateline Jefferson, Georgia, population 9,432.  Richard Fausset reports under the headline, "A Small Georgia City Plans to Put Students in Classrooms This Week."  The story features Jennifer Fogle, whose family moved to the community from Indiana 14 years ago.  Here's an excerpt:
Ms. Fogle, 46, a stay-at-home mother, thinks these decisions are unwise. But after weighing her options, including online education promoted by the district but taught by a private company or the state, she decided it best to let her two teenage children embrace the risks and physically attend Jefferson High School. It seemed futile, she said, to go against the grain in a heavily pro-Trump community where many see masks as an infringement of their personal freedom — and in a state where the Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has been urging districts to reopen their classrooms despite the pandemic’s growing toll. 
“I can’t fix it,” Ms. Fogle said. “So I have to learn, how do we live life as normal as possible and still try to protect ourselves?” 
The reopening plans have starkly divided Jefferson, a middle-class city of about 12,000 people, offering a likely preview of the contentious debates ahead for many other communities whose school years start closer to the end of summer. 
An online petition created by two Jefferson High seniors calling for a mandatory-mask rule has garnered more than 600 signatures. But a competing petition demanding that masks remain a choice for students has attracted more than 200 signers, some of whom have left comments that underscore the politicized nature of the disagreement. “Only liberals can get rona and I’m not a liberal,” wrote one, using a slang term for the coronavirus. “TRUMP2020 no mask fo me.”
Some data on Jefferson, in Jackson County, which is contiguous to Gwinnett, a more central part of the greater Atlanta metro area:  The county has seen 13 deaths related to coronavirus, and the infection rate is 1067 per 100,000 people. 
But in nearby Gwinnett County, which has about 12 times as many people, the infection rate is considerably higher and 216 people have died. More broadly, Georgia, in the week ending July 23, has seen an average of 3,287 new cases per day — an increase of 42 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Many Jefferson residents traditionally commute for work to Atlanta and beyond.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXV): El Dorado County, California

Posted at the Apple Bistro, Placerville, California 
That's the focus of a story in today's Sacrmaento Bee, headlined "To mask or not to mask?  El Dorado County faces a reckoning this week."  Here's the lede for Tony Bizjak's story:
For a month now, El Dorado County has been the only county in the Sacramento region that has avoided landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “watchlist” of counties that require tighter restrictions to fight the coronavirus
* * * 
Now, with infections on the rise in El Dorado, county officials say they may be days from being added to the governor’s list, a step that would require more businesses to close and would likely force schools to keep doors closed when instruction starts in a few weeks.
The county notably has experienced just one death from the virus. But the number of cases has nearly doubled in the last two weeks alone and the percentage of El Dorado residents’ tests coming back positive for COVID-19 is twice what it was a month ago.
This story from July 17, 2020, about Placerville's Apple Cafe (also varyingly referred to as the Apple Bistro) ran on a local TV station.  Here's the lede:
A Placerville restaurant openly violating public health rules is getting a mix of backlash and support.

There’s a sign encouraging people not to wear masks and gloves in front of the Apple Bistro. The owner said he disagrees with county health rules, so he’s not implementing them.
I've written about El Dorado County, population 181,058 and definitely metropolitan by OMB population standards, many times during the dozen-year history of this blog.  The county lies just about 15 miles east of where I live, where far eastern Sacramento County meets El Dorado County in a posh and nouveau riche suburb of Greater Sacramento called El Dorado Hills.  Another 15 miles east of that is the county seat, Placerville, known as "old hang town."

Some prior posts about El Dorado County, which stretches many miles east to the Nevada state line, at South Lake Tahoe are hereherehere and here.  The El Dorado County government is famously anti-government, as evinced in this story, where the County Board of Supervisors, voted to support "the grass-roots (and grass-fed) agriculture revolution," and--in particular--local farmers who are bucking state regulations by selling directly to consumers.  You can read more about the county's anti-government (state, federal and international) antics in that post, extending all the way to resistance of the United Nation's Millennium Development goals.

It just so happens that I was in El Dorado County this weekend, and few folks were wearing masks, especially in the southern part of the county, which has been especially spared by the virus.  First, we arrived at the restaurant closest to our cabin in the area of Fairplay to pick up a "to go" order, and no one in the outdoor dining space was wearing a mask--perhaps not surprising because it was outdoors.   I've noticed our NextDoor discussion group for the area features residents from both ends of the masking debate.  I stopped at a farm stand on the way home, but neither the Asian farmer manning the stand nor other customers were wearing masks, so I made a hasty exit in spite of the delicious looking strawberries and blackberries.  In Placerville, I popped into an olive oil vendor where I buy my favorite locally-made red sauce, and all customers were wearing masks and the store keeper was wearing a face shield.  I was also happy to see that many of the Main Street restaurants in Placerville had expanded seating out onto the street parking area, though few customers were availing themselves of that option.  I don't know if more folks were eating inside, but I sure hope these restaurants survive. 

And on this Monday evening as I wrap up this post, this came across my Twitter feed:  that the second most engaged story on FaceBook right now is a Breitbart video of a group of doctors claiming that hydroxychloroquine cures Covid and that "you don't need a mask":
Twitter Feed at 9:00, July 27, 2020
And apropos of nothing related to El Dorado County, I heard a journalist say on Cap Radio's Insight this week that older people are more susceptible to conspiracy theories.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXIV): Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout

From Camden Hills State Park, looking toward Penobscot Bay, Maine, April 2019
Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008.  Strout's webpage describes the book thusly, with attention to the fictional town of Crosby, Maine.
In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge. 
At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
We know from reading the book that Crosby is coastal and it's under an hour's drive from Portland because one family featured in the book drives its children there to attend a private school.   We also know that it's not too far south of Belfast, a place mentioned as one where Crosby folks people gather. 
Belfast, Maine, April 2019 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

I took this photo in Belfast last year, when I drove up the coast from Portland to Mount Desert Island, part of Acadia National Park.  Here is a post from that trip, this one about a small town in coastal Maine, down the peninsula from Bath.  Two law-focused posts from the same trip to Maine are here and here.    

Both Olive Kitteridge and its sequel, Olive, Again (2019), illustrate the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities.  In particular Olive, as a retired middle school math teacher, knows seemingly everyone in Crosby, and she remembers students she taught decades earlier.  Those relationships, with former students and their parents, are fodder for a number of the book's narrative threads.
Damariscotta, Maine, April, 2019 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

Here's an excerpt from near the beginning of the final chapter of Olive Kitteridge, a chapter headed "River."  I selected it because it sums up some of the conflicts inherent in rural gentrification and the influx of retirees into otherwise static, rural communities.
Henry did not always warm up to people or retirees, those who came up the coast to live out their last days in a setting of slanting light. They were apt to have money, and, often, a grating sense of entitlement. For example, one man felt entitled to write an article in the local paper, poking fun at the natives, saying they were cold and aloof. And there was the woman who’d been overheard at Moody’s store, asking her husband, “Why is everyone in this state fat, and why do they all look retarded?” She was, according to whoever had told the story, a Jew from New York, and so there was that. Even now, there were people who’d have preferred a Muslim family to move in rather than be insulted by a Jew from New York. Jack Kennison was neither, but he was not a native, and he had an arrogant look.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXIV): Cases in my home county spike by 55 (out of 7,700 residents) in a single day

Jasper School employees May 2020 
My mom sent me a text message yesterday afternoon telling me that 50 folks at the Newton County nursing home had tested positive for the coronavirus.  I wasn't sure of her source, but today, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's main coronavirus story, which mentioned 990 new cases in the state, included this about Newton County, population 7,753:  "an increase of 55 in Newton County, representing a fivefold increase in the sparsely populated county."  According to the New York Times Tracker, the number of cases in the county went from 2.1 per 100,000 residents two weeks ago to 111 in 100,000 today.  This confuses me since the 111 figure would suggest a county population of 50,000, but perhaps I'm missing something here. 

Screenshot of New York Times coronavirus tracker 8 pm Pacific time, July 25, 2020
The northern part of Newton County is shown in red, just above the text box.
The story quotes Jan Larson, mayor of Jasper, the county seat:
It’s frightening.  We’re almost in shock to be honest with you.
The story then quotes Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who said the cases were
demographically elderly.  So we’re trying to determine if that’s a nursing home environment or some other facility.  
The report moves on to quote Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill:
We’re aware of roughly 50-60 cases [at the Newton County Nursing Home in Jasper] 
The Democrat-Gazette story continues:  
A Health Department report listed just three cases among residents, and four among staff members, on Friday. 
McNeill said the new cases had not yet been added to the totals in the report.
Rachel Bunch, executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association, said the home “has received several positive tests for residents and staff.” 
Bunch wrote in an email: 
Newton County Nursing Home is doing everything they can to manage the situation and will continue to remain diligent in implementing containment measures.  As we know, the elderly are at the most risk for this disease.
The story notes that a nursing home staff member tested positive for the coronavirus in late March, at a time when there were only four cases in the county. 

The Arkansas Department of Health's map is shown here and in the screenshot below.  It is not as helpful as it might be because it depicts total cases as a raw number, not as a function of population density.  Thus Newton County appears in pale blue, two degrees more pale than the hardest hit counties shown in the darkest blue.

Newton County is in northwest Arkansas, three counties east of Oklahoma
and two counties south of Missouri. The pale blue doesn't look bad on a map
like this, but Friday's numbers mean the rate of infection is three quarters
of a hundredth,  which is a high rate of infection 
according to my infectious disease expert consultant. 

Back to the Democrat-Gazette story, which quotes Mayor Larson re: the governor's mask-wearing mandate:
We’re wearing masks  I did go into Harps [the grocery store in Jasper, previously Bob's AG] yesterday and I only saw one man not wearing a mask. … We’ve been doing well. People have stayed home, worn their masks.
As for Governor Hutchinson (R), he said that "the new cases in the county illustrate the virus’s reach."  I will add that if it has reached Newton County, it has reached the most remote parts of the state.  Hutchinson drives home the point after weeks of delaying the implementation of a mask order:
Everybody has to be mindful there’s not any area of the state’s that’s exempt.
The comments of Mayor Larson and Governor Hutchinson remind me of some photos my mom has sent me.  At the age of 76, she still works as non-certified personnel at the Jasper School.  She was going in a few days a week in May to be part of a team that accepted students' final homework assignments and shut down the building for the summer.  When I repeatedly admonished her then to wear a mask, she said everyone at the school was required to follow the CDC guidelines and wear masks and gloves.  They were also letting homework submitted by students sit for a few before touching it.  Yet when Mom sent me photos of what was happening at the school (which I solicited for use on the blog), no one pictured (in photo at top or the one below) was wearing a mask.

Picking up food for distribution to children who qualify for free lunches,
about 70% in this district.
My college friend, Bill Bowden, was one of the journalists who reported this COVID-19 story for the Democrat-Gazette, and he was kind enough to share some additional information about the outbreak in Newton County:

The Newton County Nursing Home is licensed for 70 beds.

At 2:45 p.m. on Friday, the Arkansas Department of Health’s website still listed Newton County with 18 total cases and seven active positive cases. Eleven people had recovered and 654 had tested negative.

An hour later, the updated website showed Newton County with 73 total cases, 61 active positive cases and 12 recoveries. A total of 676 people have tested negative in Newton County. There have been no deaths reported in Newton County because of covid-19.

Here's a post from early April about the coronavirus in Newton County, back when there was only a single reported case and the nearby Buffalo National River park was being closed as a result of the pandemic.

Back to the matter of masks, the Newton County Times published this interestingly equivocal statement by the Newton County Sheriff on July 22, 2020:
The [Governor's] mandate says that persons violating this mandate can be cited and, if convicted, receive a fine of $100.00, up to $500.00. However, first-time violators shall receive a verbal or written warning. Violators under 18 shall not be cited but only receive warnings. People cannot be jailed or detained for longer than it takes to issue a citation. It also says the mandate shall not prohibit law enforcement officers or local officials from enforcing trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of businesses or other property owners. 
Sheriff Wheeler said "I feel like our citizens know when they should and should not wear masks and whether or not they fall into one of the categories that would exempt them from the mandate. If you see someone not wearing a mask, they may very well fall into one of the exempt categories and may not be required to wear one. Businesses may require patrons to wear a mask and, if customers refuse, the business is welcome to call us. But, citizens in public not wearing a mask may very well have a legitimate, exempted reason not to be. Please keep that in mind. We definitely don't want to cite citizens for this mandate and feel confident that the citizens and visitors of Newton County can make their own decision as to whether or not they fall under the mandate."
Finally, the Newton County Times this week also ran a press release from U.S. Senator John Bozeman (R) about CARES Act Funding to help rural hospitals. Here's an excerpt from the piece, titled "Covid-19 shows importance of rural health":
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is putting us in danger of an even larger urban-rural divide in the ability to access quality health care services. Hundreds of rural hospitals across the country could close as a result of the crisis. This means tens of thousands of rural patients could lose access to their nearest emergency room.

There was already a quiet storm brewing prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly half of rural America’s hospitals had been operating at a loss and closure rates were escalating dramatically, hitting a record high last year. Closures in 2020 are on pace to eclipse that number.

These already financially-strapped hospitals now face catastrophic cash shortages as the inability to provide non-emergency care has led to an even larger loss of revenue. Many have furloughed staff, instituted massive cuts or are shuttering their doors.

My colleagues and I are working to address this fragile situation and ensure that the health care needs of rural America are not lost in the rush to tamp down urban hotspots. I recently joined a bipartisan, bicameral effort with over 45 of my colleagues to ask the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to dedicate a larger share of the Provider Relief Fund specifically for rural health providers.

Created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Provider Relief Fund was allocated $175 billion to distribute to hospitals and healthcare providers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. At the time of our inquiry, only $10 billion of that total amount has been disbursed specifically to rural health care providers.

* * *

We asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to allocate at least 20 percent of the remaining funds to rural hospitals and providers. Priority should be granted to facilities significantly affected by COVID-19 preparation as well as those providing care for a disproportionally high percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients or populations with above average senior populations or co-morbidities. Likewise, providers in areas with limited access to health infrastructure and high numbers of uninsured patients also deserve this particular consideration.
I note that Arkansas is one of few southern states that did expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, effective January 1, 2014.  This has no doubt helped the state's rural hospitals, as has been the case in other states that expanded Medicaid.  Undermining that expansion, however, is the fact that the State then imposed a work requirement for Medicaid, a requirement that has been struck down by a federal judge.