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The delta variant of Covid-19 surged across the southern Midwest and South for the fifth consecutive week last week, raising new rural infections to a rate not seen since the middle of February.

New rural infections jumped by more than 50% last week after climbing by more than 60% the week before. In the past six weeks, new cases in rural counties have increased five-fold. The metropolitan new-infection rate has climbed at a slightly higher rate over the same period.

Nonmetropolitan counties logged just under 70,000 new Covid-19 infections last week, the highest number of weekly new cases since the end of the winter surge. (Hover over the vertical bars in the graph below to show the number of new infections per week.)

The number of  Covid-related deaths climbed slightly last week, up 25 deaths for a total of 368 last week. That’s an increase of about 7%. The rate of new deaths in metropolitan counties climbed about 22% last week. (Hover over the vertical bars in the graph below to show the number of deaths that occurred in weekly increments going back to June 2020.)

The number of rural red-zone counties also surged last week, climbing by more than two-thirds to 945. That means nearly half of all the nation’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan counties are in the red-zone, a three-fold increase in the past three weeks.

Red-zone counties are defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 residents in a one-week period – a rate at which local areas should take additional measures to contain the virus, according to the White House Coronavirus Response Team.

The Daily Yonder’s Covid-19 analysis covers Sunday, July 25, through Saturday, July 31. The data set is administered by the nonprofit USA Facts.

Regional Patterns

  • The delta variant of Covid-19 first established itself in Missouri and has spread into adjoining states over the past six weeks. Iowa, where the rural vaccination rate is in the top third in the nation, has suffered far fewer infections than states like Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
  • The major changes this week are the spread of hotspot counties into Kentucky and Tennessee and more entrenched numbers of cases in nearby Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  
  • Covid-19 is also resurging in states farther outside the southern Midwest. The southern Atlantic seaboard saw an increase in new infections, as have Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Oregon.

State Rates

  • Florida had the highest rural infection rate for the week -- 516 new cases per 100,000 in population for a seven-day period.
  • Louisiana had the second highest rate – 500 cases per 100,000. (Louisiana had the highest metropolitan rate in the U.S. – 643 new cases for the week per 100,000 residents).
  • South Dakota had the best rural new-infection rate – 20 new cases per 100,000 for the week.
  • The five states with the worst rates of new infections last week all ranked near the bottom of the U.S. in their rural vaccination rates. Florida ranked 39th in rural vaccination out of 47 states that have rural counties. Louisiana ranked 42nd in rural vaccinations. Arkansas, which ranked third in rural infections, ranked 41st in rural vaccinations. Mississippi ranked fifth in rural infections and 37th in vaccinations.
  • Of the 10 states with the highest rates of rural infections, only one was in the top half of states for rural vaccination rates. Alaska, which had the sixth highest rate of rural infections last week, ranks eighth in the U.S. for rural vaccinations.

Red-Zone Counties

  • All but four states with nonmetropolitan counties saw an uptick in their rural red-zone counties.
  • Georgia more than doubled its rural red-zone counties, from 20 to 47 last week.
  • Kansas nearly doubled its rural red-zone counties, rising from 29 two weeks ago to 55 last week. Seventy-two of the state's 105 counties (both metro and nonmetro) are in the red zone.
  • Kentucky added 24 rural red-zone counties. Only 25 of the state's 120 counties were not in the red zone last week.
  • Texas added 44, and Oklahoma added 26 rural red-zone counties. Four-fifths of all the counties in those states are in the red zone.
  • Tennessee added 25 rural red-zone counties. Only 14 of the state's 95 counties are not in the red zone.
  • All of Louisiana's 63 parishes and all of Arkansas' 75 counties were in the red zone.
  • All but one of Florida's counties was in the red zone, and all but two of Mississippi's were.
  • South Carolina had 42 of 46 counties statewide in the red zone. Missouri had 108 of 114 counties in the red zone statewide.
  • Red-zone counties also increased in several Western states last week. Three-fourths of Wyoming's 21 rural counties were in the red zone. Oregon's rural red-zone counties doubled from eight to 16. Montana added 10 red-zone rural counties.