“Wealth is the vector.” That’s what sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom tweeted, in reference to the spread of coronavirus across both the globe and the United States.
The virus travels via people, and the people who travel the most, both domestically and internationally, are rich people.
A party in the tony bedroom community of Westport, Connecticut, all the way back on March 5, became what one epidemiologist referred to as a “super-spreading event,” with infected attendees dispersing throughout Connecticut and Boston, and one party-goer falling ill on a plane ride back to South Africa.
All over the United States, people are fleeing urban areas with high infection rates for the perceived safety and natural beauty of rural areas. Some of them own second homes in those areas; others are paying upwards of $10,000 a month, depending on the area, for temporary housing. The common denominator among those populations is, again, wealth
Not everyone leaving a big city because of the pandemic is heading for a vacation home; many people with mobile jobs are relocating to stay with family in suburban and rural hometowns. And many of the rural places that will eventually be hardest hit by the coronavirus are not upscale ski and beach towns, but small and often poor communities that have no tourist economy — or any of the infrastructure that comes with it. The resort areas seeing an influx of potentially virus-carrying city dwellers now are a kind of canary in the coal mine: a preview of how desperately overwhelmed rural areas across the country will be by the coronavirus, whenever it arrives.
From the coast of Maine to the mountains of New Hampshire, hundreds of people have either already arrived or are scrambling to find vacant rentals. Some are taking precautions when they leave their primary dwellings, fully isolating themselves for 14 days or more in their new, temporary towns, as the White House has recommended for anyone leaving New York City. But many, presumably, are not.