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The number of new cases of Covid-19 in rural counties has fallen for the third week in a row. But more than a third of the nation’s rural counties – most of them in the South – still have worrisomely high infection rates, a Daily Yonder analysis shows.

Rural counties produced about 46,000 new infections the week of August 15-22. That’s a decline of about 5,800 cases, or 10%, from the previous weeks’ total.

The number of deaths in rural counties dropped by 3%, to 1,188 for the week. Through August 22, a total of 13,710 people in rural counties have lost their lives due to complications from Covid-19 as of August 22. (See data note below.)

While case numbers are down in rural counties, the number of rural counties that are in the “red zone” dropped by only four from August 15 to August 22. This week, 734 rural counties were in the red zone.  

Red-zone counties are those with at least 100 new cases per 100,000 in population for a seven-day period. The definition comes from the White House Coronavirus Task Force and indicates that the pandemic is out of control in those locations.

Rural red zones account for just over a third of rural counties in the U.S. but last week produced three quarters of rural America’s new Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Half of all red-zone counties are in a 10-state Southern region stretching from North Carolina to Texas. Nearly nine out of every 10 Americans living in rural red-zone counties are in this 10-state region.

Six Deep South states have had half or more of their rural counties in the red zone for more than five weeks in a row. These are the following:

  • Florida — 19 of its 23 rural counties have been in the red zone for at least five weeks.
  • Mississippi – 48 of 65 rural counties.
  • Louisiana, 20 of 29 rural parishes.
  • Alabama – 26 of 38 rural counties.
  • Georgia – 58 of 85 rural counties.
  • And South Carolina, 13 of 20 counties.

There are some more hopeful signs coming out of the South, however. The number of rural red-zone counties in the 10-state hotspot region (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) has dropped each of the last two weeks:

The region contained 454 red-zone counties the week of August 8. The week of August 22, the region had 370 red-zone counties.

At the beginning of August, these states accounted for two-thirds of the nation’s rural red-zone counties. This week, they account for just 50%.

The number of metropolitan red-zone counties has also been in decline in the 10-state region, from 331 counties in early August to 229 as of August 22.

Although rural counties were spared much of the early phase of the pandemic, rural America has now caught up with the rest of the nation in infection rates. In late June only about 10% of new coronavirus infections occurred in rural counties. The week of August 22, 15% of new infections were in rural counties. Since rural America accounts for roughly 15% of the U.S. population (using the metropolitan/nonmetropolitan definition employed for this article), that means infections are occurring in rural areas at roughly the same rate as in metropolitan areas.

Data Note

The Daily Yonder uses Covid-19 data collected by USA Facts, a nonprofit organization. Besides providing daily updates, USA Facts corrects old data based on new information and refined collection methods. In the past week, USA Facts revised its count of new deaths. This correction resulted in an 18% increase for deaths occurring in rural counties the week ending August 15. The number of deaths reported during the one-week period rose from 1,025 to 1,225. Other corrections in data from previous days resulted in the recording of 1,209 more rural Covid-19-related deaths throughout the entirety of the pandemic.