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New Covid-19 infections in rural America fell 20% last week, dropping to their lowest level in nine months, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

Rural areas (defined as nonmetropolitan counties) recorded about 30,500 new infections last week. That’s the smallest number of new infections reported in one week since July 2021.

New infections in metropolitan counties also fell last week, declining by 22% from the week before.

Weekly Death Rate Declines Slightly

Covid-related deaths also fell in rural counties last week, but only slightly. Deaths declined less than 2% compared to two weeks ago. Rural counties reported 1,723 Covid-related deaths, bringing the total number of rural American residents who have died from Covid-19 to just over 168,000.

Metropolitan counties reported an additional 5,000 Covid-related deaths last week, a decline of about 25% compared to two weeks ago. Approximately 924,000 metropolitan residents have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago.

Death-Rate Gap Is Getting Worse

The Daily Yonder tracks two different death rates to assess the relative impact of the pandemic in rural areas. First, there is the short-term death rate, which we measure on a weekly basis. Last week, the rate of Covid-related deaths in rural counties was more than twice that of the metropolitan death rate.

The weekly death rate has been higher in rural counties than metropolitan ones for 80 out of the last 85 weeks. The biggest gap between rural and urban death rates was in November 2020, when the weekly death rate was 150% higher in rural areas than urban ones.

The weekly gap narrowed during the Omicron surge but has expanded recently. That's because metropolitan deaths are declining rapidly while the rural death count has remained relatively stable for the past three weeks.

We also track the cumulative death rate, which is computed from the total number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. This shows the total impact of Covid-related deaths by county.

Rural America’s cumulative death rate has been higher than the metropolitan death rate for 16 consecutive months, and the gap is growing larger. In late summer 2021, at the start of the Delta surge, the rural cumulative death rate was about 12% higher than the metropolitan rate. Currently, the cumulative rural death rate is about 36% higher than the metropolitan rate.

State Variation in New Infections

  • Idaho had the worst rural and urban infection rates in the U.S. last week. (See the sortable table at the bottom of this article.) Kentucky had the next worst rates of infection in both rural and metro counties.
  • Kentucky had the biggest jump in rural infections – jumping more than 350% from two weeks ago. The state had a similar increase in metropolitan infections.
  • Kentucky also led the nation in the number of rural counties in the red zone, defined as having 100 or more new cases per 100,000 residents in a week’s time. Eighty percent of the state’s rural counties were in the red zone. Nationally, only 28% of rural counties were in the red zone last week.
  • Nevada had the best rate of rural infections, followed by California, South Carolina, Ohio, and Nebraska. But gaps in reporting could account for some of these exceptionally low rates of infection.

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