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Despite a fourth straight week of decline in new infections in rural areas, the number of new Covid-related deaths in rural counties increased slightly last week.

The death toll reached 3,547 in rural counties the week of Sunday, January 31, through Saturday, February 6. That’s up by about 1% from the week before. 

Rural counties averaged 541 deaths per day in the first seven days of February. The daily average is slightly higher than it was in January, the deadliest month so far for rural America.

The number of new infections, meanwhile, fell by about 8% last week compared to two weeks ago. 

There were 115,359 new infections reported in rural counties last week, according to USA Facts.

Here are other key findings in this week’s Daily Yonder analysis of the impact of the coronavirus in rural America:

Rural Death Rate

  • The death rate from Covid-19 was 34% higher in rural areas than in urban areas last week. 
  • The rural death rate climbed slightly from 7.7 to 7.8 new deaths per 100,000 residents. The urban death rate fell from 6.4 to 5.8 new deaths per 100,000 for the week.
  • The rural death rate has been higher than the rural death rate since the first of August.
  • In 35 states the rural share total deaths and total cases over the year of the pandemic is greater than the rural share of the population.

New Infections

  • The rate of new infections in urban counties dropped by 20% last week, a much bigger reduction than occurred in rural counties. 
  • Nationally, the number of new cases fell below 1 million for the first time since early November.
  • Rural and urban counties had the same rate of new infections last week, about 250 new cases per 100,000 residents. The urban new-infection rate had been higher than the rural rate since Christmas.
  • The current new-infection rate is half the rate in mid-January and the lowest seen in the country since the end of October.

Red-Zone Counties

  • The number of rural counties in the red zone (defined as having 100 or more new cases per 100,000 residents in a single week) fell to its lowest level since October. Out of 1,976 rural counties, 1,469 (or about three quarters) were in the red zone.
  • More than 90% of the nation’s 1,165 metropolitan or urban counties were in the red zone last week, a modest decline from the week before.
  • The Northern Midwest saw the greatest drop in red-zone counties, with swaths of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska dropping below the red-zone threshold. 
  • The number of counties with very high rates of new infections (defined as greater than 500 new cases per 100,000 residents) declined sharply. Only 4 to 5% percent of U.S. counties were above this threshold last week. In the second week of January, more than 40% of U.S. counties had very high rates of new infections. 

National Trends

  • Seventy percent of the nation’s counties saw a decrease in new infections last week. 
  • More than 820 counties (both urban and rural) saw steep declines in cases. But 900 counties plateaued with slight declines, which makes the future direction of the pandemic there uncertain, according to health officials.

Test Positivity Rates

  • Test positivity rates, another indicator of how Covid-19 is spreading, improved last week, dropping to 9.2% for rural counties and 9.9% for metropolitan counties. The rate is the percent of people tested for Covid-19 who have a positive result. 
  • Over the past two weeks, the test-positivity rate has fallen in each of the 47 states with rural counties (Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island do not have any rural counties). Only 15 states have rural averages higher than 10%.