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A woman sits as another woman in medical scrubs takes a blood sample from her arm.
Juliana Cortez and Katherine Jofre chat while Cortez conducts a blood draw to gather samples for a longitudinal study on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Chatham County. (photo by Megan May)


At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, major cities like New York became epicenters for the virus’s spread. It’s no surprise why — millions of people living on a small island was a recipe for disaster. Within the first three months, the city lost nearly 16,000 people to the virus. During one particularly bad week in April, approximately 800 people were dying each day.

But rural populations have also been hit hard.

“The COVID pandemic has been associated with urban centers because of population density and crowding,” says Ross Boyce, an infectious disease researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But some of those same risk factors are also at play in rural communities — and that shouldn’t be ignored.”

A recent study led by geography PhD students Katerina Brandt and Varun Goel and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health postdoctoral researcher Cory Keeler looked at SARS-CoV-2 testing in North Carolina from January to June. Using data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, they identified disparities in testing volume for rural populations in the state. The number of tests per capita received by the Latino population, specifically, were consistently lower than the rate for non-Latino Black and white populations.


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