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The number of new Covid-19 infections in rural America fell by 16% last week, reaching its lowest level since July 2020.

New Covid-related deaths also declined, dropping by 10% compared to the week before.

A total of 31,683 new Covid-19 infections were reported in rural (or nonmetropolitan) counties last week, a drop of 5,800 cases from the week before.

Covid-related deaths in rural counties fell to 613, down 64 deaths from the week before.

New infections and deaths in both rural and urban counties have been falling since the start of 2021. Current levels of new infections and deaths in rural areas are about 90% lower now than during the peak of the winter surge in mid-January, when a one-week period saw 232,000 new cases and 4,100 deaths.

This week’s report on Covid-19 in rural America covers Sunday, May 9, through Saturday, May 15. The report is based on data from the nonprofit USA Facts.  

  • The number of rural counties on the red-zone list fell to 378, the lowest number since July. The red zone is defined as having at least 100 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents in a one-week period. The White House says localities over this threshold should take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • One in five of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties was on the red-zone list last week. During the winter surge, nine out of every 10 rural counties was on the list.
  • Minnesota had the biggest drop in red-zone counties, with a decline of 15. Other states that saw large decreases in the number of red-zone counties were Michigan (down 12) and North Carolina (down 11), Virginia (down nine), and Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa (down eight each).
  • States adding red-zone counties were Texas (up eight), Alabama (up five), and Missouri (up five).
  • Michigan, which had the worst rate of new rural infection for several months, finally improved to second place last week, with a rate of 135 per 100,000 residents for the week.
  • West Virginia had the worst rural infection rate last week, at 158 new cases per 100,000 residents. West Virginia’s rate of rural infection more than doubled from the previous week, an indication that at least some of the change may be caused by reporting anomalies.
  • About half of the nation’s rural counties had fewer new cases last week than they did two weeks ago. About a third of rural counties had more cases last week than two weeks ago. The remaining rural counties saw little or no change in their infection rates.
  • Rural and urban America had virtually identical rates of new infections last week (69 per 100,000 for rural vs. 71.3 per 100,000 for urban). The gap between the rates has fluctuated throughout the course of the pandemic but has been consistently closing over the last month.
  • The rate of new Covid-related deaths has also been converging between rural and urban areas in recent weeks. Last week the rural rate was 1.3 deaths per 100,000 resident vs. 1.2 per 100,000 in urban areas.