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The delta variant of Covid-19 appears to be on the wane in rural counties after peaking two weeks ago.

New infections fell by 14% last week in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties, from about 210,000 new cases two weeks ago to 181,000 new cases last week. It was the biggest single-week drop in the number of new cases since winter.

Covid-related deaths increased by 10% last week, to 3,197. That’s the largest number of deaths in nonmetropolitan counties since early February. Deaths are a trailing indicator of Covid-19 and could continue to rise for weeks. This winter, the rural death rate did not begin to fall substantially until about a month after new infections began to wane.

This week’s report covers Sunday, September 19, through Saturday, September 25.

Rural Areas with the Highest Infection Rates

  • West Virginia had the highest rate of new rural infections last week, even though its infection rate declined slightly over the last week. Counties with the highest rate of infections are shown on the map above in black (rural) and gray (metropolitan). Besides West Virginia, in the Eastern U.S., counties with very high rates of new infection are clustered in Kentucky, Tennessee, and southeast Ohio.
  • In the West, Wyoming and Montana had the highest rate of rural infections. Idaho was also near the top of the list for rural infections.
  • In the upper Midwest, Wisconsin’s rural infection rate bucked the nationwide trend and grew by 50% last week. The state now has 25 rural counties with very high infection rates. The trend is also evident in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Declining Infection Numbers

  • Nearly two thirds of the nation’s rural counties had fewer new infections last week than they did two weeks ago.
  • Thirty-four of the 47 states with rural (nonmetropolitan) counties saw a decrease in their rural infection rates last week.
  • Florida had the biggest drop – 41%, followed by Tennessee (down 38%), Utah (37%) and Louisiana (down 34%). Connecticut, which has consistently had relatively low rural infection rates throughout the Delta-variant surge, improved its rate by 34% last week.

Red-Zone Counties

  • Although the number of counties with very-high infection rates is on the decline, 94% of all rural counties remain on the red-zone list, meaning they had at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents last week. The White House coronavirus task force has previously said localities over this threshold should take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • Texas and Georgia had the biggest drop in red-zone counties last week. Texas had 11 counties fall off the list, and Georgia had 10.
  • Only five states had an increase in the number of rural red-zone counties last week.

Higher Death and Infection Rates in Rural Areas

  • The gap between the rural and metropolitan death rates narrowed slightly last week. For six weeks the rural death rate has been about two times higher than the metropolitan death rate. The gap closed to about 75% this week – the result of the metropolitan death rate accelerating faster than the rural one.
  • The rural infection rate has been higher than the metropolitan rate for the past seven weeks. Last week the rural rate was 69% higher than the metropolitan rate – about where it was two weeks ago.

Data Notes

The Daily Yonder’s primary source of data is the nonprofit USA Facts. We amended this data with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in three instances. CDC data was used for Nebraska, where no data was reported for infections or deaths in USA Facts. CDC data was also used for counties in Florida and New Jersey, where no deaths were reported.

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