COVID-19 fears diminish in many rural areas

I attended a farm auction sale recently and bought a couple hopper bottom bins and an old welder. It wasn’t large by farm auction standards, but it was still a significant gathering of people in this era of physical distancing.

People were asked to come alone and only attend if they were interested in buying something. It wasn’t an event for socializing. At the entrance, attendees were handed a sheet explaining the safety protocols.

Until now, farm auctions have all been online and while that works well, it’s great to personally inspect what you’re bidding on. It’s also great to visit with people even as you keep some distance.

The auctioneer made frequent announcements about distancing and the auction truck didn’t move up and down the rows of machinery like normal. This helped keep the crowd dispersed, but made it a bit more difficult at times to spot bidders.

There was a sense that while people wanted to do the right things and abide by the rules, risk was perceived as very small. I didn’t see anyone wearing a mask.

Ironically, the old combine on auction ran well, but had a mouse problem in the cab. A sign warned people against entering. However, mice and the risk of hantavirus is something many farmers live with on an ongoing basis, particularly if you’re running older equipment.

On the nightly news, people on both sides of the border are chided for gathering in large groups in parks and beaches. These are often in regions where COVID-19 has extracted a heavy toll and the risk of infection remains high.

As of May 24, Saskatchewan had only 87 active cases with 80 of those in the far north and north. Saskatoon had six active cases while Regina had none. One case had popped up somewhere in southern Saskatchewan after many weeks of nothing.

While everyone has been affected by the pandemic, people in rural areas don’t perceive much of a threat. It’s rare to see anyone wearing a mask when grocery shopping in a small town. On the other hand, if you’re waiting in line in Saskatoon to get into Princess Auto or Peavey Mart, many people are wearing masks.

In the early stages of the pandemic, everyone was on edge, afraid of the invisible enemy. There are “covidiots” who think they’re bulletproof, but this is different from people seeing the statistics and realizing when and where the risks are greatly reduced.

While prevention measures are falling by the wayside and the economy is gradually reopening, it’s unclear how the future will unfold. The virus is unlikely to disappear and loosening restrictions could mean more infections. Is this really a battle humans can win and at what cost?

Can an effective vaccine be developed? When might that be and how long will it take for testing? And after that, how long will it take to produce large quantities and then immunize the billions of people across the planet?

Some experts warn of a second wave of infection. They’d like to see the world continue to be locked down for the foreseeable future. Then there’s U.S. President Donald Trump, who wanted to open the American economy by Easter ahead of horrendous death losses in many states.

For governments, it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario.

One thing is certain. Life in sparsely populated rural areas is more appealing than ever.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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