About the Map
The map shows metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties based on their infection rates. The map colors identify the 250 rural counties that have no cases of Covid-19, plus rural counties that are above and below the average infection rate for nonmetropolitan America. The map also shows metropolitan counties divided into those that are above and below the average metropolitan infection rate.
Our infection rate calculations exclude the New York City metropolitan area (which accounts for more than a third of the Covid-19 cases in the U.S.) so it’s easier to see the impact of the coronavirus in other parts of the county.
Covid-19 infections continued to spread more quickly in rural counties over the last week compared to the nation as a whole.
The rise in the rural infection rate was especially pronounced in counties where manufacturing – which includes meatpacking – is a major part of the economy.
As of May 7, the rural counties classified as manufacturing (using a system devised by the USDA Economic Research Service) had an infection rate of 258.1 cases per 100,000 residents. The overall rural infection rate is 168.3.
Counties where mining is the economic mainstay had the lowest infection rate, 92. Farming counties had the next lowest, with 104.9.
The graph above shows the growth in infection rates in rural counties by economic type. Manufacturing counties are represented by the red line.
Infections in rural manufacturing counties grew at roughly the same rate as the rest of rural America until the middle of April. At that time, health officials first began reporting large numbers of Covid-19 cases associated with plants that process chicken, pork, and beef.
The uptick in rural coronavirus infections is also visible in the overall proportion of cases originating in rural counties. In the graphic above, the red line represents a seven-day rolling average of new cases of Covid-19 in nonmetropolitan counties. The average trends upward on April 18 and continues to do so for the next week. Over the last month, the share of new coronavirus infections coming from rural counties climbed 170%.
It’s important to note that counties classified as manufacturing in the ERS system include more than just meatpacking. So using this system to analyze the impact of meatpacking on the rural infection rate is less than ideal. For a detailed look at infections related to meatpacking, The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has an excellent interactive map. Leah Douglas at FERN reports that 13,000 workers in meatpacking and food-processing plants have tested positive for the disease. At least 51 have died.