Hospital beds in Washington are filled with COVID-19 patients, almost all of whom are people who failed to get vaccinated against the disease. And a huge share of these laggards and anti-vaxxers are from rural areas of the state.

Small-town hospitals do not have the capacity to deal with this flood of cases, so patients are being transferred to urban medical centers. Between July 1 and Sept. 23, 229 rural COVID sufferers were moved to King County medical centers. Over in Spokane, hospitals have been flooded, not just by patients from surrounding counties, but from Idaho, as well, where case numbers are high and vaccination levels are low.

Besides a dearth of medical facilities, these rural areas all have something in common: lots of Republicans who watch a lot of Fox News and listen to a lot of right-wing talk radio and who elect lots of local political leaders who do not like masks, vaccines or any intrusions from busybodies from the big cities telling them how to stay healthy. As a result, the decision about whether or not to get vaccinated has become a political one. Statistics show a strong link between being a Republican and being unvaccinated.

In the early days of the pandemic, the outbreak centered in cities because that is where the people are. In rural areas, there was a sense that either the alarm over COVID-19 was a hoax cooked up by liberal elites or it was something no one in an isolated small town needed to worry about. As the virus spread, people in cities like Seattle largely followed the guidance of doctors and scientists; they masked up, sequestered themselves and got vaccinated as soon as they could. That did not happen in rural areas and, to a dangerous degree, still has not.

As a result, a lot of rural folks are coming to the city, not as tourists, but as patients suffering from a deadly disease they thought would never reach them.

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