The Edition: No. 159

Apr 1, 2020

Truth is strong, and sometime or other will prevail. // Mary Astell

+ It’s time to bring back the messy personal essay.

+ Casper’s Glow Light will help lull you to sleep.

+ Coronavirus exposed the lie of modern motherhood.

+ For affordable sunglasses, try these from Quay and these from Prive Riveaux.

+ In case you needed some good news about the ventilator crisis.

+ WFH outfit: White peasant blouse + white denim + huaraches.

+ How to Build a Remote Team That Will Last.

+ Rebecca Taylor’s new arrivals are gorgeous. Also, don’t miss this sale dress.

+ Confessions of a bikini waxer.

+ Friends and Family at Saks. This star bracelet caught my eye.

+ Laid off? 7 Questions to Raise Immediately.

+ Eye patches and de-puffing eye cream in case you need a cry.

For today’s Long Read,  I wanted to share this Buzzfeed piece by Anne Helen Petersen, titled The Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation. Because while the story of this crisis has so far been told from the perspective of the cities, the needs and challenges of our rural communities are largely being ignored.

Many with means are fleeing the cities to second homes, favorite vacation destinations, or far away hometowns.  From the Outer Banks, to rural Maine, to the mountains of Sun Valley, ID, those with the funds to purchase more space and a sense of ‘safety’ have flocked to rural communities that lack the basic resources to take them in, spreading the virus along the way.

Take, for example, what’s happening in Bozeman, Montana.

In 2000, Bozeman was a community of about 30,000 people.  Today, that number is officially 48,000, plus an ever expanding metro area of that holds another 12,000, not counting the many nearby hamlets for whom Bozeman serves as airport, grocery store, and doctor’s office.

But despite this rapid growth, the city’s hospital has only 86 hospital beds including 8 ICU beds.  The 74 cases of coronavirus in the  Bozeman area are just the beginning of a surge that will strain those resources to their breaking point.  And Bozeman, by Montana standards, is in pretty good shape.

Of our 56 counties, only 13 have a single ICU bed.  More than 40 counties have fewer than 12 hospital beds, and those could be hours drive from where a patient lives.  And don’t even get me started on how woefully underprepared Indian Health Service is to care for our tribal residents.  Add to our rural healthcare crisis the fact that almost 30% of our population is over 60, double the national average, and you have a recipe for disaster.

And it’s not just Bozeman.

Montana is full from border to border with visitors looking to ride out the virus (see this chart for some perspective on the rapid increase).  There are so many Covid-refugees in Montana that Glacier National Park and Yellowstone had to close because they were having their busiest March on record in the middle of a pandemic.  And even though our  Governor ordered visitors to self-isolate for 14-days, he has no way to enforce that mandate.

Even though I know that some of you will see nothing wrong with Kelly Clarkson decamping to her Montana ranch, subtly re-enforcing the notion that her kids weren’t safe in L.A. so yours aren’t either, I shared this article for two very good reasons:  My Mom, who has a suppressed immune system, and my Nephew, who spent the first month of his life in a Seattle NICU in respiratory distress.

When city dwellers rush to the country — whether to stay with family, in second homes, or rented AirBnBs — they’re doing what they think is best for themselves and their kids.  While I’m sensitive to their plight, they’re putting their needs ahead of those who already live in those communities. And they’re likely spreading the virus in a way that puts them and full-time residents in real danger.

So if you or someone you know is thinking about leaving a big city to get somewhere spacious and ‘safe,’ understand that the community you’re going to is probably less prepared to handle this crisis than where you’re coming from. And even if you don’t care about the strangers you might be inadvertently hurting, ask yourself what you will do if you or your child becomes sick in a small, unfamiliar town, that only has three ventilators, where the nearest big city hospital with an open bed might be a multi-hour flight away?

Because that is the question I ask myself every time my Mom so much as clears her throat.

{this post contains affiliate links that may generate  commission for the author}

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  1. Crystal says:

    Before things really got ‘bad’ (and when people thought this might be over in a couple weeks), my good friend and I had briefly considered going to my his’ parents’ beach house in the Outer Banks — we go every spring anyway, we knew we’d be remotely working for the indefinite future, and it would have provided a ton of space for us and our dogs to safely get outdoors on the beach, plus the only people we’d ever interact with would be each other and at the grocery store.

    We chose not to go. The closest hospital would be too far away and, as you noted above, unlikely to have sufficient resources — we didn’t want to make the situation worse. On top of that, we didn’t want to potentially infect each other, we have greater and easier access to supplies in DC, there are way more hospital and ICU beds in DC (and they’re close!), and we have better support networks for ourselves and our dogs if we get sick. A few weeks in to home confinement in my tiny condo and I am very happy we stayed put.

    Meanwhile, numerous articles show a significant number of DC residents escaping to their cabins in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. My elderly mother wants me to come home to West Virginia — a state, like Montana, that is largely rural, without copious extra supplies, and has a significant elderly population. I’ve had to explain to her many times that DC is a better place for me and, in any event, I would never want to get her sick or further strain WV’s limited resources.

    I agree that those with the privilege to ‘escape’ need to seriously consider the risks to others (and, frankly, themselves) in leaving their homes for the country/beach/mountains. The more we abide by the rule and spirit of lockdown orders now — even voluntarily, if your state/region doesn’t have one — the more we can minimize the worst of this.

    • mary says:

      I was also thinking about relocating to North Carolina from DC but ultimately decided against it for the same reasons you listed. I can deal with slightly less square footage if it means minimizing my contribution to the spread (I don’t think I’m sick but who knows) and also not straining resources in a community that is not as well-equipped as the one I’m currently in.

  2. Allison says:

    Your perspective on rural communities is spot on. Have you read about the I-95 Florida checkpoint? Makes me wonder if it would be possible to get state legislature to implement something similar on the major highways where you are. Obviously it would be better if people just stayed home, but with your experience and connections in government, thought it would be helpful to share.

    • Belle says:

      Our legislature only meets for four months every two years. The Gov. has people at the airports. Most don’t live close enough to drive.

  3. e says:

    I live right outside of NYC (and work there when the City’s not shut down), and chose not to leave, even with plenty of available options for reasons that are both practical and moral. Having said that, I don’t think it’s helpful or necessary to position the position small communities as definitely worse as what those of us living in the current epicenter of the pandemic are facing. There aren’t enough hospital beds or ventilators or PPE anywhere, even if that issue is worse in certain towns.

    Socially distancing in downtown Manhattan means not leaving your home. Many people cannot leave their apartment building because it is impossible to remain 6 feet from others in doing so. The act of entering an elevator to vacate a 26th floor apartment means subjecting in air that may very well contain the virus. Hospitals in NYC were not allowing expectant mothers to have their partners in the room during delivery.

    My point is that I agree the ethical thing to do is to remain in your own home. We need to slow the spread and not overwhelm hospitals. But I also think everyone is in a uniquely painful and horrifying situation and I think it’s important to share information that can help people make informed decisions, which you’re trying todo, without using the NIMBY tone the Buzzfeed article deploys. We are all in this together. When I’ve been able to convince friends and families to stay put, it’s because I’ve emphasized that point.

    • Belle says:

      The article acknowledges that reality. I remember how hard it was to live in a small DC apartment, even alone. What we’re saying may be tinged by pre-existing NIMBY feelings, the real issue is that there is no infrastructure for the people who are in these rural communities, there is definitely no ability to scale up for thousands of temporary residents. How would NYC’ers feel if wealthy Chinese were flooding into NYC a month ago, filling hotels, taxing the hospitals, and then saying, I have freedom to travel.

      • Lauren says:

        That’s the thing though. Red states treat New Yorkers like we’re not Americans, but we are. In recent history we’re both more vulnerable to acts of terrorism and horrific weather events than most of you, yet we generate revenue that helps smaller states in good times. But when we’re hurting you turn your backs on us as if we aren’t Americans.

        • Belle says:

          We haven’t turned our backs on you. Montana sends firefighters to California during wildfire season. We sent cops and search and rescue after 9/11. We packed up farm products and building materials for people in Tennessee. We’ve even taken Seattle’s homeless into our rehab centers and filled sand bags to send to Mississippi river communities during floods. We’re just saying that in a nationwide pandemic, we don’t have the resources to care for ourselves and for you, and it doesn’t make any sense for you to flock here under the misimpression that you’re safer, when a) you’re not, and b) our infection rates are 9-12 days behind yours.

        • Belle says:

          Also, the number of times city people have referred to my home as flyover country or my fellow Montanans as mouth breathers because some vote different from you, are uncountable. And no one who actually lives in MT would call it a red state.

        • Pam says:

          I try to make sure my comments are positive or helpful but here Lauren I have to say it disgusts me that you make this a political red/blue state thing when that is entirely irrelevant. People of both political parties live everywhere and it is inappropriate to twist it that way

  4. LJG says:

    I will note that I have a slightly different perspective on this, working in international relations, but there are a lot of Americans coming “home” from overseas, for a variety of reasons related to the pandemic, whose safe haven may be some of these rural communities. They frequently will be unable to reoccupy the house that they own because they are returning unexpectedly to a place that has been rented out for the length of their assignment. They are, generally, pretty torn over leaving their assigned country in the first place, and, from what I’ve seen, try to think through very carefully whether to stay and where to go, if they leave. They likely aren’t the majority of people decamping (and, being from WV, I generally agree with your perspective on those with means overburdening underresourced areas), but it is another reason that there may be swells of population (or a need for short-term rentals or hotels) in certain places.

    • Belle says:

      Having no other choice is a different issue than someone (like in the article) driving the Oregon backroads trying to buy their way into closed hotels.

  5. TheLOOP says:

    I echo everything E said. People are facing a unique and horrifying situation, and are making the best decision for themselves. Sometimes that means leaving tiny city apartments for more space so you can peacefully co-exist with your kids and still work – like Hitha said she did when she moved to PA from Manhattan. Was that a morally wrong choice? I don’t think so.

    Of course, the people who have extreme privilege – like Kelly Clarkson – probably aren’t hurting for space in LA either but just choosing to use this as a vacation. IMHO, that’s not okay. And the same applies to folks crowding national parks and hiking trails.

    On a related note, I hope that rural communities who don’t want urban folks moving in (which seems like was happening anyways in Montana before COVID-19) will have more empathy for communities of color who have been complaining about gentrification in a similar way. And that in general, we all come out of this with a lot more empathy for those who have different life situations.

    • Jules says:

      You’re right that people are making the best decisions FOR THEMSELVES, but that comes at a huge risk to others. Even if they feel fine, the virus spreads through asymptomatic carriers that are potentially increasing exposure and risk to everyone they encounter along the way.

    • KM says:

      I don’t think E was saying that it’s ok to travel and leave cities, even if it would be “hypothetically better for your family.” It’s not ok to travel right now at all.

      My interpretation was that E was responding to the line, “Because while the story of this crisis has so far been told from the perspective of the cities, it is our rural communities that will suffer the most.” And that just isn’t true. Everyone is suffering. People in cities are suffering. Rural communities will suffer too. (And rural communities aren’t just the vacation spots that people escape to.) The most deaths will come from urban areas, just because of population numbers. It’s harder for people in cities to social distance themselves. Many in cities don’t have cars and can’t go for drives. We should all hunker down now, and nobody should travel anywhere if you have a choice. But to say that rural communities have it worse than cities overall is a bit tone deaf.

      • Belle says:

        When a community has no hospital, they have it worse than one with a hospital, even one that is struggling. A rancher in Montana died this week because his condition deteriorated so quickly, that he could not be driven to a hospital in time.

        Cities will have it worse in many ways, but rural communities with no healthcare and elderly populations will likely lose more people per capita than a city with more resources.

    • Belle says:

      I have been making the argument for years that rural communities and communities of color should start banding together. We face some of the same challenges, and the same attitude that if the suburbs have it, then everyone must have access. Food desserts are a thing in Montana too. Healthcare issues. A lack of economic opportunity, and then being told we should be grateful for low wage service jobs.

  6. Annie says:

    Oh the entitlement is unreal. I live in Aspen and the public health order closed short term rentals and requested second homeowners make their way to their primary residence. Our per resident COVID rates are through the roof with only a tiny hospital. And this is the nonsense people are writing in letters to the editor:

    • Liz says:

      My grandparents live full time in a small beach community on the FL panhandle (Navarre) and I was so relieved when the governor shut down vacation rentals, because the number of spring breakers traveling to the area and totally disregarding social distancing was really making me worry about them. While they’re relatively close to bigger hospitals and trauma services in the nearest city, it still made me worry.

      If it weren’t for the droves of tourists that have still been flocking to the area, I wonder if I’d feel differently about going to my parents house there? I also feel like I’m a bit hypocritical for viewing people going to their second homes or their vacations homes differently than people looking to book a hotel/air bnb/vacation rental/etc…

      • Belle says:

        I don’t know if I see those two groups differently. I have noticed myself being more understanding of people who left long before the shelter in place orders were issued. I feel a bit hypocritical about that as well. Hopefully, we sort this out so if it happens again, no one feels like their only hope is to escape.

  7. J says:

    Although expected, this type of NIMBYism is profoundly unhelpful. Of course you don’t want the virus to come to your community – nobody does, but people have to live somewhere and many cities already can’t handle the patient loads. It is also inaccurate to say that healthcare will be worse in rural areas than in epicenters as the urban ICUs start to overflow.

    • Belle says:

      Again, if a town has no hospital and no ICU beds to begin with, they are in a worse situation than a place that has more resources, even if they’re taxed.

      • e says:

        I just think that making the point that it’s better to die in the waiting room of an ER in Queens than to die in the car being driven to the hospital in Montana isn’t helpful. The most important thing here is to convince people to stay home. I don’t think arguing that rural communities “have it worse” is going to ring true with the people who live in cities, but maybe you’ve had success with this approach.

        • J says:

          Quick follow-up: I just saw your response and appreciate you reflecting on the feedback from commenters. Thanks for considering other perspectives.

        • Belle says:

          I thought more about what you said, worse was the wrong word choice. Thanks for the comment. Changed it.

  8. Rhonda says:

    I second your thoughts. We moved from Seattle to my home state of Iowa 2.5 years ago b/c of my mother’s health, which is now end-stage pancreatic cancer. No one has a second home in Iowa the way they do in Montana (ha!) but the people and governor here are not taking this as seriously as they should, IMO. We don’t have the resources, and I doubt we’d get the resources if we needed them, b/c they’d think somewhere else needs them more. Every sniffle gives me anxiety. If people take precautions, the life they help save could be my mother and/or your mother.

  9. Hannah says:

    Thank you for this Belle. I have heard of people who live in cities (particularly New York) decamping to smaller towns, and could not articulate the problem with it other than that they are very likely bringing the virus with them. This example of the strain on Montana’s resources really makes the problem clear.

  10. SBE says:

    Bozeman, MT resident here. Thank you so much for this post. It’s really hard trying to wrap our brains around the limited resources in our already-stretched community and what the influx means for those that live here year round. There is the additional burden of the lack of available necessities at the stores, from pasta to toilet paper (which I understand is an issue elsewhere, too). I worry for my parents, who are still running meals on wheels for seniors during this crisis, as well as for my friends that live in the gateway communities around national parks where those with their second homes are flocking. I hope that the Governor’s order for a self-quarantine for the out-of-staters will emphasize the issue.

  11. Lauren says:

    Anyone in their right mind would flee nyc right now and I get that you don’t want what is happening in my hometown in your hometown. Believe me it’s a horror scene. But the it’s 100x easier to practice social distancing in a less dense place and buying time, even a few days, to not get sick is valuable to people. It seems like since 9-11 rural folks just expect nyers to die by the thousands while their family stays safe and unaffected.

    It’s not 9-11 this time. We’re all going to lose people we love. Not only in New York, although we’re without a doubt getting the worst of it. I’m not judging my nyc friends for going to their summer homes or renting places in my town and potentially taking a suburban ventilator or bed from my sick loved one. Their presence makes things harder here, but easier back in the boroughs. Their lives are not expendable or less valuable and they’re not less entitled to care because they live here part time or not at all. They’re not not Americans.

    Some of us are now experiencing our last few days on this earth. If Montana is as special as you always say I can see why people would want to shelter there. You seem like someone who cares about this country. You have to see that we’re not that different. I promise gasping for air and dying on the street in queens is not preferable to gasping for air and dying in a car in Montana. But spending your last few days in a spacious place where you can reasonably quarantine from the rest of your family, vs a 600sq apt where you’ll almost certainly infect them seems objectively preferable to me. Even if someone doing that might endanger my or your loved one by taxing a local hospital, I get it.

    Please have some compassion. Being told to stay put and die in ny is worst than being called a flyover state.

    • Belle says:

      No one is arguing that some lives are expendable (except the LG in Texas); we’re all hoping that the Army Corps and FEMA can help NYC and LA and NOLA, etc. get the resources they need to care for the people there.

      AHP’s article and my comments only reflect a reality that rural areas cannot absorb the additional patients, and that there is a perception that they are safer in rural places, which is only true if they arrive healthy and stay healthy. No doubt some of the people who left NYC were ill others were asymptomatic carriers, they allowed the virus to spread to new places, and in doing so put their health above the health of others. Vail, Sun Valley, many small rural places are now struggling to care for not only the people who their system was scaled to care for, but potentially thousands of others that it is not.

      But what is happening in your hometown WILL happen in my hometown; Montana will reach peak virus 10 days behind NYC. And when that happens, our state will be as terrifying as NYC is now, so you’re simply escaping one place for another that’s also primed to burn. And I assure you, when that happens, you won’t want to be in Montana. At least in NYC, the government (state, local, and fed) are making an effort to scale the response. Rural areas do not have the pull or the importance a big city does, and as the whole country struggles, our healthcare system will likely be left behind.

  12. Richa says:

    As someone who grew up in a small city in CO and am seeing all of what you mentioned happen in rural mountain towns back home, THANK YOU.

    Please keep speaking up about this because rural healthcare infrastructure and even non-rural / small suburban in some cases is really not meant to handle this level of resource strain and overflow.

    It blows my mind how many people are blowing this off as “it’s their right to move to their second home”, not keeping in mind local communities.

  13. Michelle says:

    We were out near Salt Lake City starting March 6 for snowboarding and were supposed to leave March 22. Had the ski resorts stayed open we would’ve stayed out there and while I was initially upset that we lost an entire week of our *planned* vacation, if the ski resorts had stayed open things would’ve been worse.

    Then the earthquake hit and all we wanted was to get the hell out of there. Our airbnb hosts offered to let us stay as long as we needed since getting a flight out proved very difficult.

    I’m just hope that everyone in Idaho and Utah are doing ok with the earthquakes hitting at the same time- I think some parts of Montana had some aftershocks from the Idaho earthquake too.

    • Belle says:

      I think everyone’s okay. We felt it in Spokane too. The epicenter was in the middle of a forested area between two populated areas, some friends live in one, and we haven’t heard about anything but some broken dishes.

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