What’s Next? COVID-19 and North Carolina’s Rural Communities

The end of the COVID-19 Pandemic Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023, was met with a mix of relief and anxiety. While the daily impact of the pandemic has dramatically decreased for most, fears persist about the virus, potential resurgences, and ongoing risk.  

States of emergency ending at the state and national level carry many implications for public health. From free access to at-home tests to the Medicaid continuous enrollment provision, financial and health care benefits extended to millions of Americans are coming to an end.  

For more about the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency and other public health information, check out our recently released 2023 Rural Health Snapshot. 

COVID-19 Impact on North Carolina 

For more than three years, every corner of our state felt the impact of the pandemic. There were nearly 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 across the state and 29,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. We were all impacted by uncertainty, fear, illness, death, economic challenges, and more. 

The pandemic state of emergency may be over, but its lasting impact is not. We are still battling the effects of long COVID, increased mental health challenges, health workforce shortages, and economic recovery.  

It was especially hard for North Carolina’s rural communities where there are fewer medical professionals and facilities and there is less access to reliable internet. In fact, fewer than one in four Mountain residents have access to fiber internet which makes telemedicine difficult according to North Carolina Health News. And, according to Fortune, many rural hospitals are struggling financially now that COVID funding has ended. 

We’ve seen some positive signs for North Carolina as well. Approximately 90 percent of the state’s residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 67 percent having received a full two-dose vaccination.  

Centering Rural North Carolina Post-Pandemic 

One of our programs, the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA), is hard at work continuing to advocate for policies that support local health departments and public health organizations. NCRHA program staff are partnering with community-based organizations to understand and uplift the needs of our state’s rural communities and historically marginalized populations to ensure that we address systemic inequities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made a lasting impression that won’t be forgotten, but it also revealed the true strength, resiliency, and character of North Carolinians. It also showed just how impactful positive policy can be on public health. After three years of a global pandemic, two things are clear: access to health care is vital, and equity in that access can and should be addressed systemically at the policy level.  

FHLI recently published the NCRHA’s 2023 Rural Health Snapshot. Check out the report to learn more about the state of health across North Carolina and our plans to continue creating change.