Saturday, July 11, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXI): Not a single case yet in Modoc County, California

Entering Modoc County, July 2018
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
Julia Prodis Sulek reports for the San Jose Mercury News under the headline, "This one California county has zero coronavirus cases. What’s its secret?"  The subhead is "Remote Modoc County, nuzzled next to Nevada and Oregon, is so far COVD-19 free."  Here's an atmospheric excerpt:
Taqueria in Alturas, 
This high desert county of alfalfa fields, wildlife refuges and 9,000 people has not recorded a single case of COVID-19. Not even one. Ever.
It’s the only county in California that appears to be coronavirus free — one of only five in seven Western states that can still make that claim, at the moment.
The story quotes Modoc County spokesperson Heather Hadwig: 
We’re all shocked we don’t have it yet. We know it’s coming. We thought it was coming for weeks. Mostly, though, we’re ready and very, very prepared.
One of California's most rural counties, Modoc initially complied with statewide orders but more recently has declined to do so.  Indeed, Modoc County officials were among the earliest to defy Governor Newsom's shelter in place directives, and they re-opened without state permission in early May.  The Modoc County Sheriff, Tex Dowdy, has said he will not enforce state orders on mask wearing.  The story quotes Dowdy: 
I’m getting paid to come to work every day. For me to tell them that they can’t and further burden them with writing them a citation or fining them when they’re already hurting? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for any community.
Modoc Livestock Yard
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
Sulek explains that there wasn't a lot to shut down when the governor's order was issued in March:
When the lockdown orders were put in place, there really wasn’t much to lock down. With years of drought hurting farmers and online shopping killing retail, towns in Modoc County have been struggling for years. In the county seat of Alturas, home to 2,600 people, half the businesses on Main Street — about 30 — were out of business before the pandemic.
As for other factors, Sulek notes the low population density and precautions Modoc County officials are taking: 
[N]ot many live in cramped quarters. Most people here work for the government managing federal lands that make up a large portion of the county. The county screens and quarantines migrant farmworkers and seasonal firefighters when they first arrive.
And then there is Modoc's role as a
Even the influx of “coronavirus refugees” who fled their urban confines in L.A. and San Francisco to camp along the Pit River and sling back beers at the Round Up Saloon haven’t carried COVID with them. 
And here's a great line that juxtaposes what BLM means in cities and what it means in the rural western United States:
In these remote reaches, BLM still stands for Bureau of Land Management. But that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t shown up.
For more on Black Lives Matter in rural America, read this
West of Alturas, Modoc County, July 2018  (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 
Earlier posts about Modoc County are herehere, here, and here.   Prior posts here and here mention Modoc County in relation to the pandemic.  

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXII): The Liar's Club by Mary Karr (Redux)

In this prior post, I wrote about the Texas neighborhood in which Mary grew up, in the town of Leechfield.  That prior excerpt depicted her mom melting down, and the neighbors turning away.  Now I'm going to share an excerpt about her mother's return--with a new husband--to the same house in the same neighborhood in Leechfield:
If the pope had advanced on us, outfitted in embroidered robes with acolytes behind wagging gold incense burners, the neighbors would have been held in less thrall.  No sooner had that low yellow car halted in its tracks than every family on the block started from their various houses, prepared to stay a while, wearing wind-breakers and winter jackets and rain slickers in case the fat clouds overhead broke open.  They pulled their lawn chairs out of garage storage, aimed them to face us, and sat watching like we were some drive-in movie projected across the soft gray horizon.  The misty rain that speckled the air didn’t stop them.  Mrs. Dillard just unfolded her clear plastic rain bonnet from its tuckaway pocket and tied it right under her chin, so her hairdo wouldn’t get sticky.  Mrs. Sharp wielded the massive black umbrella they toted to football games.
 The men who weren’t working stood together under the eaves of the Carters’ garage, smoking, the red coals of their cigarettes visible when drawn on.  They were watching too.  Don’t think they weren’t.  The kids scampered behind their front-yard ditches like nothing special was happening, all but Carol Sharp, who crossed the to stand right at the edge of our yard.  I gave her the finger in full view of everybody.  That set her loping back to tattle, her Keds slapping against the wet asphalt.  
I walked back and forth along the ditch’s slope till it struck me that I’d once seen a cow dog patrol its territory with the exact same level of concentration I was bringing to bear.  Mother and Hector toted some more dresses out the house.  They were made of silk, colors of whipped cream and beige and palest tangerine shimmering in the gauzy air.  I could just imagine the neighbor ladies reckoning their worth—“Why, one of them alone’s worth Pete’s whole paycheck . . ." 
I hated them at that instant, hated their broad heavy bottoms slung low in those stripy garden chairs.  I hated their church suppers, their lumpy tuna casseroles, their Jell-O molds with perfect cubes of pear and peach hanging suspended.  I hated their crocheted baby booties and sofa shawls, the toilet-paper covers shaped like poodles everybody worked on one summer.   
For the first time, I felt the power my family’s strangeness gave us over the neighbors.  Those other grown-ups were scared.  Not only of my parents but of me.  My wildness scared them.  Plus they guessed that I’d moved through houses darker than theirs.  All my life I’d wanted to belong in their families, to draw my lunch bag from the simple light and order of their defrosted refrigerators.
pp. 266-67. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXX): Density of cases highest in nonmetro counties in the South

I've been taking screen shots for the past couple of weeks of the New York Times graphic showing, at any given time, the ten counties with the highest density of coronavirus cases per population.  They consistently show a lot of nonmetro counties in Arkansas, as well as counties in adjacent states like Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.  A few Arizona counties and one California county are consistently on the list, too.  Here are the screen shots, starting with two I took on July 4th.

Screenshot New York Times July 4, 2020, 9:18 pm

Screenshot New York Times, July 4, 2020, 11:18 am

Screenshot, New York Times, July 3, 5:54 pm

Screenshot, New York Times, June 29, 2020, 7:10 am
McDonald County, Missouri, population 23,083 is just north of Benton County, Arkansas, which has been a metropolitan hot spot for a few weeks.  Indeed, McDonald County is part of that Arkansas-anchored metro area.  This was just published about McDonald County, by the nearby Springfield News Leader.  This statement is from a McDonald County presiding commisioner  Bill Lant, who says he is not too worried: 
[Lant] noted most of the more than 750 cases in his county could be attributed to asymptomatic workers at Tyson and Simmons Foods plants in Noel, and the state had sent workers to help with testing and contacting people who may have been exposed.

"Everything as far as I'm concerned is doing just fine," he said. "We just need to continue to be careful."
Read more about the meatpacking industry as a hub for coronavirus here.

East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, population 7,759, is the most northeasterly county in the state.   

Yell County, Arkansas has a population of 22,185. It is in the Arkansas River Valley, west of Little Rock.

Hot Spring County, Arkansas has a population of 32,923.  Its county seat is Malvern, and it is somewhat southwest of Little Rock.

Lee County, Arkansas has a population of 10,424.  Its county seat is Marianna, and it is in the Delta region.

Sevier County, Arkansas has a population of 17,058.  I wrote a great deal about Sevier County here, in particular its significant LatinX population.

Anderson County, Texas has a population of 58,458.  It is in east Texas.

Santa Cruz County, Arizona has a population of 47,420.  It is south of Tucson, on the Mexico border.

Chatahoochee County, Georgia has a population of 11,267.

Stewart County, Georgia, population 6,058, is in the same southwestern region of the state as Chatahoochee.

Imperial California is metropolitan, with a population of nearly 200,000, but it is intensely agricultural.  I wrote more about it here and here.

Yuma County, Arizona, also metropolitan with a population 195,751, is just across the state line from Imperial County, California.  Both are highly agricultural.

Brewster County, Texas, population 9,232, and home of Big Bend National Park and the trendy town of Marfa.  That region was mentioned in this recent post.

Grenada County, Mississippi has a population of 21,906.

Claiborne County, Mississippi, in the Delta region, has a population of 9,604. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Rural legal scholarship: Rural Spaces, Communities of Color, and the 'Progressive' Prosecutor

This piece is by Maybell Romero, Northern Illinois University, and it is forthcoming in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.  The abstract follows:
The concept of the “progressive prosecutor” has captured the attention of many newspapers, media outlets, district attorney candidates, legal scholars, and the public at large. The success of candidates declaring themselves progressive prosecutors has been tracked with much excitement by those who have sincere interests in criminal justice reform and has been lauded in many reform-minded camps. 
These progressive prosecutors, while located throughout the country, seem to have one geographic commonality — they generally hail from large cities or even urban metroplexes: These include Wesley Bell in St. Louis, Rachael Rollins in Boston, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Kim Foxx in Chicago. In the meantime, disproportionate contact between police and minorities has increased in the rural reaches of the country, with prosecutors seemingly growing less reform minded with rates of incarceration in rural jurisdiction increasing. 
This paper joins others in casting suspicion upon the notion of progressive prosecution, questioning whether such an appellation should exist given the current nature of the job in the United States. It also serves as a warning; that while such prosecutors have seemed to become more common in large cities, that practitioners and scholars should not forget that reforms that occur in large jurisdictions sometimes do not extend to those suffering injustices in small communities.
Download the full article here

Friday, July 3, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXIX): More on the hit to journalism--and jobs generally--in small towns and cities

I'm back tracking here to a late May story out of Pueblo, Colorado, population 106,595 (not exactly rural, but a place with a significant extraction economy). The headline is "An American Jobs Crisis with Few Reporters to Cover It."  Here's the lede to Abe Streep's story:
In late April, Jim Richerson, the chief executive officer of the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo, Colo., emailed Blake Fontenay, the editorial-pages editor at the town’s newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain. Richerson and Fontenay occasionally discussed happenings at the Arts Center, which had temporarily closed and laid off most of its staff because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Richerson hoped Fontenay, a 54-year-old newspaper veteran from Tennessee, might be interested in a story about the center’s virtual dance classes. 
Since the paper — the oldest daily in the state — had laid off its business editor the previous spring, Fontenay had written a local business column. His editorial voice was often optimistic, counseling positivity during a recent spate of layoffs in town. But when Fontenay replied, he said he could not produce the story; he had been laid off himself. 
His last Chieftain column, titled ‘‘A Journalist’s Final Whistle?’’ invoked his father and grandfather, both of whom had been journalists, and reminisced about the paper he started himself in elementary school. ‘‘I guess I could be bitter,’’ he wrote, ‘‘but that’s just the way life is in the newspaper business these days.’’
A key data point:  "Between March 15 and May 16, 476,613 people in Colorado applied for unemployment benefits — nearly as many as applied in all of 2009 and 2010, according to the state Department of Labor and Employment."

I've written elsewhere on the blog about the rural newspaper crisis, aggravated as it has been by the pandemic.

And here's another quasi-rural media story, this one out of Missouri, about two women newspaper owners who walked out on the paper when their father, the newspaper publisher, ran a racist syndicated cartoon in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police protests in early June.  The dateline was Washington, population 13,982, in Franklin County, Missouri, population 101,492, and Michael Cavna reported for the Washington Post.  More coverage of that incident is here

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Rising incarceration rates in the rural South--and what to do about them

Olivia Paschal reports for Facing South, "How to reverse the rural South's rising incarceration rate."  The dateline is Madison County, Kentucky, population 92,987.  An excerpt follows:
In rural America, incarceration rates have been climbing over the last decade, even as they've plummeted in cities. The rural-urban disparities in criminal justice are not limited to incarceration: A recent study by Sam Sinyangwe, a data scientist and activist, found that police killings are rising in rural ZIP codes, even as they drop in urban ones. While crime rates in rural areas are significantly lower than in urban centers, incarceration there continues apace; the majority of people held in the South’s rural jails are in pretrial detention. 
Counties are building new and larger jails, and some are accepting new prison contracts — part of what scholars term "industries of last resort" for rural counties whose economies and budgets have struggled since the farm crisis of the 1980s and deindustrialization in the 1990s. 
Six other posts about this rural jails phenomenon nationally are here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXVIII): Outbreak in rural California county dominated by prisons

Hailey Branson-Potts reports in the Los Angeles Times about a coronavirus outbreak in Susanville, the county seat of Lassen County, California, population 34,895, and the home of several state and federal prison.  What has happened is that the California Department of Corrections has transferred to High Desert State Prison several inmates from San Quinten, in Marin County/North Bay.  Those inmates, in turn, had been transferred from prisons in Southern California.  Here's the story's lede:
For months, rural Lassen County held a pandemic distinction as one of the only counties in California with zero confirmed cases of COVID-19. 
The sparsely populated Northern California county, which did not report its first coronavirus case until May 22, was one of the first in the state to ease social restrictions and reopen public life. 
But now, a major outbreak among inmates at a state prison in Susanville, linked to the transfer of inmates from San Quentin State Prison, has frustrated local officials who say the state’s movement of infected prisoners now poses a grave danger to their community.
Branson-Potts then quotes Richard Egan, the Lassen County spokesperson: 
The sentiment is really of disappointment with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to disregard the impact on our community with regard to their policy of moving inmates around.
Read the entire story and don't miss the quotes from State Senator Brian Dahle and his wife, state representative Megan Dahle, who represent the area.  (For the record, Brian Dahle also represents my senate district down here in suburban Sacramento; it's a massive one in terms of territory covered--from the Oregon state line to the suburbs of the state capital).  They're frustrated by the transfer of prisoners during the coronavirus, especially into a community with so few health care resources.  The only hospital in Susanville has 25 beds.  Another concern is that folks working at the prison come from neighboring counties, including Modoc County to the north, Plumas County to the south, and across the state line into Nevada.  To date, Modoc County has recorded no coronavirus cases.

Other posts out of Lassen County are here,  here, and here.  Susanville was the subject of the 2010 documentary "Prisontown USA" by Po Kutchins and Katie Galloway.

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXVII): Some rural parts of California losing out on coronavirus testing

Angela Hart and Rachel Bluth report for the Los Angeles Times, with this lede:
In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched a multimillion-dollar state initiative to bring COVID-19 testing to the people and places with the least access: rural towns and disadvantaged inner-city neighborhoods. 
California is now halting its expansion, citing costs, even as the state is getting walloped by record-setting spikes in new infections and double-digit increases in hospitalizations. 
The state will no longer fund new testing sites, despite pleas from counties for additional assistance — and it has closed some locations and moved them elsewhere. It also has threatened to pull testing out of underutilized sites, according to nearly two dozen interviews with county public health officials.  
One of the (somewhat) rural places where testing will cease: Shingle Springs, population 4,432, in El Dorado County, population 181,058.  Shingle Springs is basically exurban Sacramento.

According to the Times, Shingle Springs lost its testing site "because it couldn’t fill enough appointment slots."  
A Newsom administration official confirmed that the state wants to see counties fill at least 80% of testing slots at each location. And if testing drops below 50% for a few days or longer, counties are warned, the sites could be transferred elsewhere.
I wonder if the failure to fill testing slots is because of a certain "rural mentality" associated with places like Shingle Springs--or if perhaps the low rate of testing in western El Dorado County relates to the fact that most of the county's relatively few cases have been far away, in and around South Lake Tahoe.  The county stretches many miles from the Sierra-Nevada foothills just east of Sacrament to Lake Tahoe. 

Other arguably rural places that may lose testing sites if they don't get their numbers up are near Temecula in Riverside County and Mendocino County, where the state-funded site has provided "the only free testing available within a two-hour drive for some rural residents."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXVI): City folks still seeking country retreats, this time to buy

Just two stories on this topic in the past several days are one out of Wyoming (which is nearly rural in its entirety) and one out of New York.

WyoFile, Wyoming's non-profit news website, reported last week here, under the headline "COVID refugees bring mini-boom to some Wyo real estate markets." Angus M. Thuermer Jr. reports:
As Wyoming’s economy gets back in gear following a COVID-19 stay-at-home lull, one corner of the business world is seeing at least a mini boom — the rural refuge real estate market. 
From Torrington to Cody, Jackson to Sheridan, rental and real estate agents report brisk business driven in part, they believe, by big-city customers seeking new homes they think will be farther from trouble. 
Some of the surge could be called a COVID comeback. But enduring Wyoming qualities, from the state’s small population, to low taxes, rural landscape, mountains and rivers figure in a bounce-back in some communities that aren’t tied to energy production. 
“During the official quarantine, certainly we did get a lot of phone calls — some of them attributed to people saying ‘I want to get out of the big city and [move] to wide-open Wyoming,’” said Ty Pedersen, president of the Northwest Wyoming Board of Realtors and a Cody real estate agent. “There’s a prediction we will start to see more of that. The feeling is there’s going to be a little resurgence here for Wyoming.” 
While Cody has the draw of world-famous Yellowstone National Park, the Sheridan region’s own Bighorn Mountain beauty suggests a broader attraction. “I think in general people are looking for a more rural setting,” said Karen Chase, marketing manager for the Powder Horn Golf Club and community. “I would say they’re looking for a less populated area.”
At the other end of the rural-urban continuum (at least in terms of the state at issue) is this New York Times story about how the Catskills are booming because of refugees from NYC.  Julie Lasky writes of a run on houses in that region.    An excerpt follows:
In Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Delaware Counties, urbanites with the wherewithal to venture beyond the city are snapping up primary and weekend houses, many in what real estate sales agents say is a financial sweet spot from $200,00 to $450,000. They are forging ahead despite the inconveniences and uncertainties of buying in a pandemic (masked, self-directed house tours; cautious lenders; virtual closings).
An early-quarantine story about a rural area in France that had escaped the pandemic is here.  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (LXV): Rural California's defiance on masks

The Sacramento Bee explained yesterday under the headline, "‘I refuse to bow to anybody.’ Rural California defies Gov. Newsom’s order to wear masks."  Dale Kasler reports with this lede:
Perched behind the counter of his cramped memorabilia shop in downtown Placerville, co-owner Lorenzo Smith isn’t about to tell his customers they have to put on a mask. 
It’s a matter of principle, he isn’t convinced it’s necessary, and he doesn’t particularly care that Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered Californians to wear them. 
“Most people up here do not like the governor,” said Smith, whose shop is called Hangtown Originals. “The deal is, you have no right to tell me I have to wear a mask. I’m an American. ... I refuse to bow to anybody.”
Newsom issued his order June 18 in an effort to halt a recent statewide surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since he began relaxing restrictions and reopening the economy more than a month ago. 
But Californians aren’t listening — not all of them, anyway. And there seems to be a distinct split between urban California and the rest of the state. In big cities like Sacramento, compliance appears to be fairly high. In suburbs and small towns, Newsom’s edict is more likely to be ignored. 
Why the split? Some of it’s cultural; as a rule, rural Californians are more suspicious of what they see as government intrusion into their lives. Some it’s political; rural areas tend to vote Republican, and some residents are taking their lead from President Donald Trump, who has been disdainful of wearing masks. Polls show Democrats are more likely to wear masks than Republicans.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Call for Papers: Rural workshop at University of South Dakota School of Law, October 30, 2020

Call for Papers
Rural Legal Scholars Workshop
The University of South Dakota School of Law will host a workshop this fall for legal scholars whose work engages with rural issues. The workshop will be held via Zoom on Friday, October 30, 2020, from 9 am until 4 pm CST.

This conference will focus on works-in-progress about legal issues viewed through the lens of rurality or rural- urban difference. Submissions may encompass any topic that addresses or investigates rurality and the law. To the extent possible, participants will be expected to attend the full day of Zoom sessions and read and comment on other works. If you are interested in workshopping a paper, please submit a title and abstract to Hannah Haksgaard at no later than Friday, August 7.

Final drafts for circulation to other participants will be due October 9.

If you wish to attend all or part of the conference as a commentator without workshopping a paper, please e-mail