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The number of new Covid-19 infections in rural America climbed for the sixth consecutive week last week, marking the longest continuous increase in new cases since the Delta surge in summer 2021, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

In metropolitan counties, new infections increased for the fifth consecutive week. Although the growth streak is shorter in metropolitan counties, cases have climbed there for eight out of the last nine weeks. As a result, the weekly rate of new infections in metropolitan counties is currently twice that of rural counties.

There were nearly 53,000 new Covid-19 infections in rural counties last week, an increase of about 20% from two weeks ago. In metropolitan counties, the infection rate grew by about a third to a total of 164,000 new cases.

The current uptick in new cases has already lasted longer than the Omicron surge in December and January, during which new infections climbed to record-breaking rates in both rural and metropolitan counties.

This surge is officially only a fraction of the intensity of the Omicron surge in late 2021 and early 2022. But epidemiologists are increasingly skeptical of using new infections alone to judge the pandemic’s ferocity. Public testing sites have decreased, and home tests (which are not generally part of the official tally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are widely available.

But hospitalizations are still relatively low, only about 15% as high as hospitalizations during the peak of the Omicron surge in January.

The Covid death rate declined slightly in rural counties last week. Rural counties reported 390 deaths last week, down about 6% from two weeks ago. In metropolitan counties, Covid-related deaths increased about 7%, to 1,716. The rural death rate of 0.61 deaths per 100,000 residents was about 40% higher than the metropolitan death rate last week.

The rural death rate has been higher than the metropolitan death rate nearly every week since August 2020. The cumulative death rate is about a third higher in rural counties than urban ones.

The increase in new infections in metropolitan counties is fueled by higher rates on the densely populated Eastern Seaboard. Eight of the top 10 states with the highest metropolitan infection rates were in the East, stretching from Maine to Washington, D.C.

In the rural U.S., California, Kentucky, and Louisiana saw the biggest increase in rural infection rates last week. Each state’s rural infection rate climbed by 94%.  Delaware had the highest percentage increase in urban infection rates, climbing by more than 125% compared to two weeks ago.

The Daily Yonder's analysis is based on the community profile data compiled by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. This report defines rural as counties that are not located in a Metropolitan Statistical Area (OMB 2013).

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