Kirk Siegler | KUNC

Kirk Siegler

Reporter

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.

Siegler grew up near Missoula, MT, and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado.  He’s an avid skier and traveler in his spare time.

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At a free mass testing site on Montana's Flathead Reservation, hundreds of people are queued up in idling cars. They're waiting an hour or more for the irritating nose swab test for the coronavirus, but most, like Francine Van Maanen, are just grateful to finally get one.

"We enjoyed the fact that they had this testing available to us, so why not get checked," she says, while waiting in line with her husband.

Twenty-nine-old Morgann Freeman's right eye is still alarming to look at. It's blotched bright red after a hemorrhage from exposure to tear gas. She's come back to the scene of where protests over the police killing of George Floyd turned violent in her hometown, Omaha, Neb.

The top prosecutor in Omaha, Neb., will request a grand jury to take a second look at the shooting of James Scurlock, a 22-year-old African-American man who was killed by a white bar owner Saturday night as George Floyd protests in the city turned violent.

Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine had released the shooting suspect Jake Gardner from custody on Monday, ruling that he acted in self defense.

A county judge in Oregon has refused to vacate his ruling rejecting that state's stay-at-home order, though Gov. Kate Brown's restrictions will remain in place pending a review by the Oregon Supreme Court.

The case is one of several challenges launched recently by conservatives in mostly rural areas from Illinois to Wisconsin to Oregon. They've upended or threatened to upend statewide public health restrictions in place to curb coronavirus infections. They also appear to be bringing the divide between urban and rural areas into sharper focus.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The month of May marks the beginning of wildfire season. And this year, firefighters are facing an additional challenge - how to do their jobs while also protecting themselves from a deadly virus. NPR's Kirk Siegler has more.

As the COVID-19 crisis took hold and schools in Lockhart, Texas, had to close and shift to remote learning, the school district quickly conducted a needs assessment.

They found that half of their 6,000 students have no high-speed Internet at home. And despite being a short drive south of Austin, a third of all the students and staff live in "dead zones," where Internet and cell service aren't even available.

None of this was surprising to Mark Estrada, superintendent at the Lockhart Independent School District.

By this time next week, Decatur County, Tenn., will have lost its only hospital, Decatur County General, which has been serving the rural community of about 12,000 people along the Tennessee River since 1963.

The hospital's human resources director, Melinda Hays-Kirkwood, has already begun laying off people, and she says by next week only a skeleton staff will remain.

"It's hard on these employees that have been here a long time. I've got people who have been here for 30 years," Hays-Kirkwood says. "For some people, this has been their only job out of college."

The small city of Barstow, Calif., sits in the remote Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It's rural, yet hardly isolated, at a major crossroads with a lot of people coming and going. An outbreak of the coronavirus could overwhelm its 30-bed hospital.

In Grangeville, Idaho, population 3,000, Syringa Hospital has just 15 beds, an emergency room and a clinic. As is common in rural medicine, the chief medical officer, Dr. Matthew Told, is also a family practice OB and, on a recent evening, the on-call ER doc.

"We don't have ventilator services, we don't have respiratory therapy," Told says during a break between seeing patients.

When the icy wind blows off the Spokane River, the temperature can routinely plunge below zero on this city's worn streets near downtown and the I-90 freeway. Trying to survive without shelter out here is almost impossible.

Just ask Mariah Hodges.

"The first night I came here I was almost frozen to the sidewalk," Hodges says.

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