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While a lower percentage of rural residents have acquired COVID-19, the disease is spreading in rural America at about the same rate as urban counties.

The most recent data from USAFacts.org shows the number of coronavirus cases in rural (or nonmetropolitan) counties increased by 16% in the last 24-hour period, from March 30 to 31. The nationwide rate of increase was 15% during the same period.

Deaths in rural America grew by 40% (from 95 to 133) from March 30 to 31. While the rate of increase was sharp, those deaths still account for only a fraction of the national death toll of 3,506 as of March 31. 

Rural COVID-19 cases continue to be concentrated in counties with economies based on tourism and recreation. As of March 31, these recreation counties had 28 percent of the rural COVID-19 cases. These same counties had only 13.5 percent of rural America’s population.

(The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has classified the economies of all counties.)

Rates of infection are growing in all parts of the rural economy. Last week, for instance, rural farming counties reported 22.4 cases of COVID-19 per million people. As of March 31, these same farming counties reported 95.3 cases per million.

Because COVID-19 cases hit recreation-industry counties first, rural America’s cases are still concentrated in Western ski counties. Eagle County, Colorado, had 227 COVID-19 cases as of March 31, the most of any county in rural America. Blaine County, Idaho, had 192 cases, and Summit County, Utah, had 181 cases.

But the spread of the disease in rural counties is not focused on particular regions or economic types. Sixty-five rural counties acquired their first case of COVID-19 on March 31. Those counties are spread across the United States, not focused in a particular region or a specific economic type.

As of the end of the day March 31, 55 percent of rural counties had reported at least one case of COVID-19. In metropolitan America’s 437 counties, 412 (or 96%) have reported a case.

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