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The number of new Covid-19 infections in rural counties climbed modestly last week, the first increase in new cases since the peak of the winter surge in early January.

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-related deaths in rural counties continued to decline at a steady pace, dropping by about 17% from two weeks ago.

A total of 40,578 new Covid-19 infections were reported in rural counties last week, up about 5% from two weeks ago.

Since the increase is small and could be related in part to reporting anomalies, we’ll have to wait to see whether the change signals the end to the rapid improvement we’ve seen in 2021. Part of the gain could be related to data problems in Missouri. (The state went from reporting 287 cases two weeks ago to about 4,400 new cases last week – a signal that the difference has more to do with data problems than actual spread of the coronavirus.)

But the numbers from a handful of other states also show a rebound in rural cases. Rural infections in Alabama increased by 1,219 last week (from 819 two weeks ago to 2,038 last week). In Michigan, rural infections climbed by 1,152 (from 2,027 to 3,179). And rural cases in North Carolina grew by 521 (from 2,117 to 2,638).

This week’s Covid-19 report covers Sunday, March 14, to Saturday, March 20. Data comes from USA Facts.

  • About 60% of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties saw a decrease in new infections last week. In the 849 rural counties that had an increase in new infections, the growth was slight — five or fewer cases.
  • There were significant regional differences in reporting trends among rural counties. In Michigan, 45 of the state’s 57 rural counties had increases in cases last week. Twenty-eight of Alabama’s 38 rural counties had increases. In California, 19 of 21 rural counties had more cases last week than the week before.
  • The number of rural counties in the red zone dropped for the 10th consecutive week. There were 498 rural counties in the red zone, down from 525 two weeks ago. Red zone counties have infection rates of 100 or more new cases per 100,000 in population for a one-week period. Localities above that threshold have been urged to take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • New Hampshire added three counties to the red-zone list last week, putting five of its seven rural counties in that category.
  • Alabama added 11 rural counties to the red-zone list last week. Michigan added 10. Minnesota added eight, while California added seven. (Missouri’s gain of 12 rural red-zone counties is likely related to reporting anomalies, not actual infection rates.)
  • States that dropped the most rural counties from the red-zone list include Texas (down 20 rural counties on the red-zone list), Iowa (down 17), Mississippi (down 15), and Kentucky (down 14).
  • South Carolina improved slightly last week, dropping one rural county from the red-zone list. South Carolina had all its rural counties in the red zone for the entirety of 2021 until two weeks ago. It currently has 14 of 20 rural counties in the red zone.
  • Test positivity, an indication of how well the test numbers reflect the actual spread of Covid-19 in the community, remained below 10% in rural parts of all 47 states with rural counties. Ohio and South Carolina had the highest rural test positivity rates in the nation (each at 9.1%).
  • The Covid-19 death rate in rural America was 0.1% lower in rural counties than metropolitan ones last week – 2.6 per 100,000 residents for the week, vs. 2.5 per 100,000). This is the first time in 32 weeks that the metro death rate has been higher than the rural rate.

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