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New Covid-19 infections in rural America shot up by nearly 50% last week, hitting numbers we haven’t seen since early fall.

Part of the increase may be attributable to a long tail from Thanksgiving interruptions in data reporting. But regional patterns (such as worsening conditions on the perimeter of the South and continued spread in the Northeast) indicate that the spike is based on conditions on the ground.

Three different data sets confirmed the increase, according to a Daily Yonder analysis. Cases were on the rise in data from USA Facts (the primary source for the Daily Yonder’s analysis), the New York Times, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New cases of Covid-19 in rural counties climbed to about 148,000 last week, an increase of 48,000 (or 48%) from two weeks ago.

Covid-related deaths in rural counties also grew by roughly half last week, climbing from about 1,400 two weeks ago to 2,200 last week. Since the start of the pandemic, 135,339 rural Americans have died from Covid-19.

Last week, the rural death rate was 130% higher than the metropolitan death rate. The rural death rate has been roughly twice as high as the metropolitan rate since late August.

Metropolitan counties also had a similar percentage increase in new infections and deaths last week.

Data for the Daily Yonder’s analysis of Covid-19 in rural America comes from the nonprofit USA Facts. This week we supplemented USA Facts data with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the state of Florida, which did not include information on deaths through USA Facts.

Highs and Lows

  • New Hampshire had the highest rural infection rate in the U.S. last week, at 755 new cases per 100,000 rural residents over the seven-day period.
  • Michigan had the second-highest rural infection rate at 696 new cases per 100,000 for the week.
  • Vermont and Indiana were third- and fourth-highest respectively, both with rural infection rates over 600 per 100,000 residents for the week.
  • Three Deep South states had the best rural infection rates. These were Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
  • Seven of the 10 states with the lowest rural infection rates were in the South.
  • The South’s infection rate cooled after the early stages of the Delta-variant surge this summer and early fall. But the perimeter of the South saw increased cases last week.

Trouble Spots and Red Zones

  • The Northeast and Upper Midwest remained the trouble spots for this phase of the pandemic. All eight states that border the Great Lakes had above-average infection rates. Collectively, those states accounted for just under half of all rural infections last week.
  • Every county in the Great Lakes states is in the red zone, meaning they have infection rates of at least 100 new cases per 100,000 for a one-week period. The White House has advised localities in the red zone to take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • Texas saw a dramatic increase in the number of rural red-zone counties last week. The state jumped from 21 rural red-zone counties two weeks ago to 86 last week, an increase of 65, or more than 200%.
  • Tennessee’s rural red-zone county list grew by nearly 300%, from 12 two weeks ago to 46 last week.
  • Half of the states had 90% or more of their rural counties in the red zone last week.
  • Only three states (Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma) had fewer rural red-zone counties last week than they did two weeks ago.
  • Rural infection rates were higher than metropolitan infection rates in 36 states last week.

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