The explosion of Covid-19 infections from the Omicron variant began in the nation’s metropolitan centers and is now encroaching on rural areas.

New infections in metropolitan counties have jumped 250% since mid-December while rural counties have seen a smaller increase of about 50%. But the gap between metropolitan and rural counties is narrowing. Rural infections grew 72% last week, versus an increase of 120% in metropolitan counties.

The metropolitan surge has pushed the urban infection rate to more than twice that of rural counties. That reverses the trend established during the Delta surge, when rural residents were becoming infected at a faster rate than metropolitan residents.

The impact of Omicron has yet to appear in weekly tabulation of deaths resulting from Covid-19. The number of deaths occurring last week dropped by 25% in rural areas compared to two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties saw a 9% drop.

Despite the relative improvement, the rural death rate from Covid remained 74% higher than the metropolitan rate last week, the smallest gap since early August.

Red-Zone Counties

  • The growth in new cases is reflected in this week’s tally of red-zone counties. (The red zone is defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period). The percentage of metropolitan counties in the red zone grew from 78% two weeks ago 98% last week.
  • The proportion of rural counties in the red zone increased from about 80% two weeks ago to 93% last week.

Counties with Very High Rates

  • The explosive growth in new infections is also reflected in the number of counties with very high rates of new infections, which the Daily Yonder defines as having 500 or more new cases per 100,000. Just over half of all metropolitan counties had very high infection rates (shown in gray on the map), up from just 14% of all metro counties the previous week.
  • About a fifth of all rural counties had very high infection rates (shown in black on the map), up from 6% the previous week.

Best and Worst Performing States

  • Maryland had the highest rural rate of new infections last week, at just over 1,500 per 100,000 residents. That means 1.5% of the state’s rural population tested positive for Covid-19 last week. (Maryland has a small rural population – 150,000 – so a relatively small increase in cases can have a larger impact on the infection rate.)
  • Other states in the top five for highest rural infection rates were Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. (A complete list of rural and metro rates for each state is at the bottom of this article.)
  • Interior Western states tended to have lower rural infection rates. The states with the lowest rural infection rates last week were Oklahoma, Nevada, Idaho, North Dakota, and Montana.

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