UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Internet access is a necessity: a latent class analysis of COVID-19 related challenges and the role of technology use among rural community residents Dow-Fleisner, Sarah; Seaton, Cherisse L.; Li, Eric Ping Hung, 1978-; Plamondon, Katrina; Oelke, Nelly; Kurtz, Donna; Jones, Charlotte; Currie, Leanne; Pesut, Barbara; Hasan, Khalad; Rush, Kathy L.

Abstract

Background Rural and remote communities faced unique access challenges to essential services such as healthcare and highspeed infrastructure pre-COVID, which have been amplified by the pandemic. This study examined patterns of COVID-related challenges and the use of technology among rural-living individuals during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods A sample of 279 rural residents completed an online survey about the impact of COVID-related challenges and the role of technology use. Latent class analysis was used to generate subgroups reflecting the patterns of COVID-related challenges. Differences in group membership were examined based on age, gender, education, race/ethnicity, and living situation. Finally, thematic analysis of open-ended qualitative responses was conducted to further contextualize the challenges experienced by rural-living residents. Results Four distinct COVID challenge impact subgroups were identified: 1) Social challenges (35%), 2) Social and Health challenges (31%), 3) Social and Financial challenges (14%), and 4) Social, Health, Financial, and Daily Living challenges (19%). Older adults were more likely to be in the Social challenges or Social and Health challenges groups as compared to young adults who were more likely to be in the Social, Health, Financial, and Daily Living challenges group. Additionally, although participants were using technology more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic to address challenges, they were also reporting issues with quality and connectivity as a significant barrier. Conclusions These analyses found four different patterns of impact related to social, health, financial, and daily living challenges in the context of COVID. Social needs were evident across the four groups; however, we also found nearly 1 in 5 rural-living individuals were impacted by an array of challenges. Access to reliable internet and devices has the potential to support individuals to manage these challenges.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)