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Along with the virus, rural Nevada battles doctor shortage, vaccine misinformation

Bert Johnson/Mountain West News Bureau

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell takes a knee last year during a Black Lives Matter protest in Reno. Curry-Winchell, medical director of Saint Mary's Urgent Care, says sparking a dialogue can help patients overcome vaccine hesitancy.

The pandemic provides challenges in rural Elko County that extend beyond the transmissibility and lethality of COVID-19.

The sprawling county in the northeast corner of Nevada faced a shortage of medical professionals long before the pandemic arrived almost two years ago.

“Much of the county is considered a health-provider shortage area by the federal government,” said Mountain West News Bureau reporter Bert Johnson, who has long covered the pandemic’s impact on rural Nevada. “That means it can be tough to see a doctor even in the best of times.”

COVID-19 has killed 120 of Elko County’s 55,000 residents, with 25 of those deaths happening in September, making it the deadliest month of the pandemic for the area.

Now Elko County going into winter — when people are inside and can share viruses more easily — with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.

That situation and wariness over another COVID wave leave healthcare professionals battling not just the virus, but mistaken beliefs about the vaccine.

“When I go into these conversations, it's more of, ‘Please tell me why you're hesitant,’” said Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, who is based in Reno but also treats patients from rural Nevada.

She said this approach “helps spark the dialogue and maybe decrease misinformation.”

Bert Johnson, reporter, Mountain West News Bureau

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