In August, during the five days this CNN team spent in Carter County, Missouri, it felt like Covid-19 was closing in on us. We were seated next to a 16-year-old in Van Buren, the county’s largest town when she received a text saying that school masks would require since roughly 20 students had tested positive after only two days of class. A breakout infection forced one of the people we planned to interview to go to the hospital.
Another lady discovered the night before our interview that she had been exposed to coronavirus through a sick child at church. People were speculating about who had it, where they acquired it, and whether somebody in town was aware of their possession but refused to isolate them. Brandon Helvey said, “Everybody’s scared. Everybody’s coming down with it. And it’s almost like a plague.”
Carter County has a population of only 6,000 people. Van Buren has a population of approximately 820 people. So it’s the type of environment where everyone knows everyone else and knows who Covid-19 has. So we returned in August to see what had changed and what hadn’t since last fall and to figure out why, even though people here knew so many individuals who became sick, only 27% of the county is fully vaccinated.