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The presidential election offers plenty of evidence that ignoring the coronavirus won’t make it go away.

Last week, while most of us focused on the race for the White House, the number of Covid-19 infections in rural counties grew by 30% and set a record for the number of new cases for the seventh consecutive week. There were 144,043 new infections in rural counties last week, up from about 110,000 the week before. 

Also last week, another 97 rural counties were added to the red-zone list, bringing the total to 1,599, or four out of five of all nonmetropolitan counties. (This article using nonmetropolitan counties as synonymous with rural.)

Red-zone counties have a new infection rate of 100 or more cases in one week per 100,000 residents. The Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force says that red-zone counties need to enact tougher measures to control the virus.

The current surge originated in rural areas two months ago and more recently has spread into metropolitan counties. Previously, metropolitan counties had their worst new infection rates in July. But those counties surpassed those summer peaks for the past two weeks. 

Here are other facts from last week’s analysis, which covers Sunday to Saturday, November 1 to 7.

  • Rural counties had 1,873 Covid-19 related deaths last week, an increase of 20% from the previous week, and a new record. About 29% of new U.S. deaths occurred among rural residents, who constitute about 14% of the U.S. population.
  • This fall’s surge has created a new class of rural hotspots. One quarter of rural counties (479) have one-week infection rates of at least 500 new cases per 100,000 residents — five times the red-zone infection level. Fourteen percent of metropolitan counties (141) meet that criterion. As the map below shows, these hotspot counties are primarily in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and the Intermountain region of that includes Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
  • One third of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties are seeing a rapid increase in new cases. Another third are increasing at a more modest rate. Only a quarter of rural counties last week had had a decrease in new cases compared to the previous week.
  • Another troubling sign that the current surge has not peaked is that the rate of increase in new cases is still accelerating.  The increase in new cases in rural counties climbed 11% three weeks ago, 17% two weeks ago, and 23% last week.
  • Eighty percent of all U.S. counties (both metro and rural) are in the red zone. The only pockets that remain below that threshold are pockets in northern New York and New England; parts of Georgia; southern Louisiana and southeast Texas; and parts of Northern California and Pacific Northwest.
  • Ten states had all their rural counties in the red zone. (See table below). Another 13 states had all but one rural county in the red zone. Thirty-four states have more than half of their rural counties in the red zone. Hawaii was the only state with rural counties that had none in the red zone.

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