ELMWOOD, Neb. – Danny Rice has a good sense of how dangerous the coronavirus can be.
What puzzles him are the people who have curtailed so much of their lives to avoid being infected by the virus.
“I’m not going out and looking to catch it,” he said, sitting at a cluttered desk in his auto repair shop in the tiny eastern Nebraska community of Elmwood. “I don’t want to catch it. But if I get it, I get it. That’s just how I feel.”
Plenty of people agree with Rice, and health experts acknowledge those views are powering soaring COVID-19 infection rates, especially in parts of the rural Midwest where the disease is spreading unabated and threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
It's not that people in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and elsewhere don't realize their states are leading the nation in new cases per capita. It’s that many of them aren't especially concerned.
Wayne County, home to 6,400 people in southern Iowa, has the state's second-highest case rate, yet its public health administrator, Shelley Bickel, says mask-wearing is rare. She finds it particularly appalling when she sees older people, who are at high risk, shopping at a grocery store without one.
“I just want to get on the speaker and say, ‘Why don’t you have your mask on?’ It’s just amazing,” Bickel said.
Jenna Lovaas, public health director of Jones County, Iowa, said even now that her rural county has the state's highest virus rate, people have opted not to make any changes, such as protecting themselves and others by wearing masks.