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New Covid-19 infections and deaths in rural America have fallen to their lowest levels in a year.

The drop continues a months-long trend that coincides with the availability of coronavirus vaccines and the end of winter weather that pushed people inside, where the coronavirus is easier to transmit.

The total number of new cases in rural (or nonmetropolitan) counties dropped by about 25%, from 21,179 two weeks ago to 15,766 last week. During the same period, the number of Covid-related deaths in rural counties dropped by more than a third, from 849 to 538.

Metropolitan counties saw similar declines.

Another indication that the improvement in Covid-19 infections and deaths is widespread is that the number of rural “red-zone” counties fell to the lowest level since the Daily Yonder began tracking the statistic in June 2020.

Last week only 119 rural counties were on the red-zone list. At the height of the pandemic’s surge in January, 95% of the nation’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan counties were in the red zone. The Daily Yonder began tracking red-zone counties the first week of June last year, when there were 138 counties on the list.

The White House defines red-zone counties as those that have infection rates of 100 or more new cases per 100,000 residents.

This week’s Daily Yonder analysis of Covid-19 in rural America covers Sunday, May 30, through Saturday, June 5. Data for the report is from USA Facts.

The otherwise bright picture of Covid-19 in rural America is clouded by one statistical trend. The most recent rate of death for Covid-19 is about a third higher in rural counties than in urban ones (1.2 per 100,000 residents in rural counties versus 0.9 per 100,000 in metropolitan counties). Since the start of the pandemic, 15.9% of all Covid-related deaths have occurred in rural counties, although those counties are home to only about 14% of the nation’s population.  In the past 12 months, rural counties have accounted for more than 18% of all Covid-related deaths in the U.S.

Rural populations include a greater proportion of chronically ill and elderly residents who may be more susceptible to Covid-19, according to scholars such as Kenneth Johnson at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Also, the rate of vaccinations is lower in rural areas than metropolitan ones. As of June 1, the rural rate of completed vaccinations was 31.1% of the total rural population. The metropolitan rate was 8 points higher, at 39.1%, according to Daily Yonder analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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