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An average of 527 rural Americans died every day of January from Covid-related causes, making the first month of 2021 the deadliest of the pandemic.

A total of 16,332 rural residents died from the coronavirus in January, up slightly from the death toll in December of 16,179. Since March, nearly 68,000 rural Americans have died from Covid-19.

January was also the deadliest month of the pandemic for metropolitan counties. The urban death toll shot up 32% from December to January. Nearly 76,000 people living in metropolitan areas died from Covid-19 in January, up from about 57,000 in December.

Covid-related deaths were higher at the start of January and have relented in the last two weeks. But after a 13% drop in deaths two weeks ago, rural deaths only dropped 1% last week. 

The number of new infections has also fallen in the second half of January. New infections dropped 17% last week in rural counties, to a total of 122,278, compared to 148,302 new cases two weeks ago.

This week’s Daily Yonder Covid-19 report covers Saturday, January 24, through Sunday, January 30, and is based on data from USA Facts.  

  • The rate of new deaths in rural counties continued to outpace the metro rate of new deaths. Rural counties experienced 7.7 new deaths per 100,000 residents last week, 20% higher than the urban rate of 6.4 new deaths per 100,000. Rural America’s weekly rate of new deaths has exceeded urban America’s rate for more than five months.
  • The rate of new infections in rural counties declined by 17% last week, from 325 new cases per 100,000 residents to 271 per 100,000. This is the third straight week of declining infection rates, since the record high established four weeks ago.
  • The number of rural counties in the red zone dropped by 126 last week to 1,640, but more than 80% of the nation’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan (or rural) counties remained in that high-risk category. Red-zone counties are those with 100 or more new infections over a one-week period. (The Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force created this definition and warned localities in the category to take further actions to contain the virus.)
  • States that saw the biggest drop in their number of red-zone counties clustered in the upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains. In Nebraska, 17 counties lowered their rates of new infections below the red-zone threshold last week. Minnesota’s red-zone count declined by 16 counties. South Dakota and Missouri each saw a decline of 12 red-zone counties. Iowa dropped 10 counties from the red-zone list. (On the map, counties below the red-zone threshold are shown in dark green [rural] and light green [urban]).
  • Montana added seven counties to its red-zone list last week. Virginia, Utah, and Nevada each added one county.
  • Thirteen states have had all their rural counties in the red zone for more than five weeks in a row. These are Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Maine is the only state in the Union that has no counties (rural or urban) in the red zone.
  • Another indication of declining severity of the current surge came in the decline of counties with very high rates of new infections – defined as more than 500 new infections per 100,000 for a week. Rural counties with very high infection rates dropped from 266 two weeks ago to 166 last week. Urban areas saw a drop in very-high-infection-rate counties from 189 to 88.
  • Very-high rates of infections (shown in dark black for rural counties and gray for urban counties in the map) continued to be a problem for the Texas borderlands, upstate South Carolina, Arizona, southeast Mississippi, and portions of Kentucky, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.
  • Four states had extremely high test-positivity rates in rural counties, an indication that virus transmission is widespread. Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Arizona all had test positivity rates above 15% in rural counties. The World Health Organization recommends that test-positivity rates below 5% for at least two weeks before governments ease social-interaction restrictions. All but eight states had rural test-positivity rates over 5% last week.