New Covid-19 infections and deaths declined last week in rural America, but Thanksgiving holiday disruptions in reporting are likely part of the reason.
New infections in rural counties fell to about 100,000 last week, a drop of nearly 20% compared to two weeks ago. Covid-related deaths in rural counties dropped by nearly 30% to 1,380. New infections and deaths declined by similar percentages in metropolitan counties last week.
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Before this week’s decline, rural infections had increased slightly for three weeks in a row.
This week’s report covers Sunday, November 21, to Saturday, November 27. Data comes from USA Facts, except for Missouri, for which we used data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention for death reports.
State and Regional Variation
- New York had the highest rural infection rate last week. The rate of 482 new cases per 100,000 rural residents for the week was two times higher than the state’s urban infection rate. Rural counties in the Southern Tier and Western New York saw the largest uptick in new infections.
- Missouri had the second-highest rural infection rate – 480 per 100,000 rural residents. The state’s rural infection rate was about 20% higher than its urban infection rate. High rural infection rates occurred in the northeast, northwest, and southeast corners of the state. Missouri was the site of the first wave of the Delta-variant surge this summer, but infection rates had cooled over the fall before rebounding. Missouri data was not available two weeks ago, and it's unclear whether the state's uptick in infections could be related to reporting adjustments.
- Pennsylvania, which had the nation’s highest rural infection rate three weeks ago, had the third-highest rate last week. Northwest Pennsylvania was the hardest-hit region of the state.
- Michigan, which had the highest rural infection rate two weeks ago, dropped to seventh. The state’s rural infection rate fell by 40%. That's likely an indication that holiday disruptions in reporting were at least part of the reason for the decline.
- The South had the lowest regional infection rates.
- The Pacific Northwest and West also saw improvement.
- Florida data was not available from either USA Facts or the CDC.
Rural Red-Zone Counties
- Only six states added rural red-zone counties last week. The red-zone is defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 population in a one-week period. The White House has advised localities in the red zone to take additional steps to contain the virus. Alabama added six rural counties to the red-zone list, while Illinois added three. Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Virginia each added one.
- In the Southeast, Tennessee dropped 19 rural counties from the red-zone list last week. North Carolina dropped 13.
- In the Northwest, Oregon reduced its rural red-zone counties by 12 and Washington by 11.
- Nebraska reduced its rural red-zone counties by nine. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Wyoming each reduced their rural red-zone counties by eight.
Pandemic Remains Worse in Rural Counties
- The death rate from Covid-19 in rural counties remained more than two times higher than the death rate in urban counties. The rural infection rate was about 40% higher than the urban infection rate. Rural counties have had significantly higher rates of death and infections than urban areas since mid-August.