The virus infecting thousands of Americans a day is also attacking the country's social fabric. The coronavirus has exposed a weakness in many rural communities, where divisive pandemic politics are alienating some of their most critical residents — health care workers.
A wave of departing medical professionals would leave gaping holes in the rural health care system, and small-town economies, triggering a death spiral in some of these areas that may be hard to stop.
"It's heartbreaking," Darnauer says. "Because we say, this is what we value. And then when we actually had the chance to walk it out, we did it really poorly."
The pushback was too much. Darnauer resigned her position as Rice County medical director in July. Some friends reached out to support her, and her bonds with other local health care professionals strengthened, but she felt disrespected and betrayed by the ascendant anti-mask portion of the community. Darnauer says the pandemic has exposed a rift that won't be forgotten.
More than a quarter of all the public health administrators in Kansas quit, retired or got fired this year, according to Vicki Collie-Akers, an associate professor of population health at the University of Kansas. Some of them got death threats. Some had to hire armed guards.
A wave of departing medical professionals in rural areas threatens to leave gaping holes in these health care systems and local economies, triggering a death spiral that may be hard to stop.