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Rural America experienced record numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths last week, showing that a slight respite over the holidays was the result of interruptions in test reporting, not waning strength in the pandemic.

Rural counties reported 232,239 new Covid-19 infections last week. That’s a 35% increase from the previous week, when numerous states fell behind in daily coronavirus reports because of Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. 

Covid-19-related deaths also set a record in rural counties last week, at 4,084.

Previous rural records for both new infections and deaths were set in December, before the holidays resulted in irregular reports on testing and deaths.

There was little good news last week, as the pandemic remained virulent in the nation’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan counties and returned to record-breaking levels in the nation’s metropolitan areas, as well. The nation’s metropolitan counties logged nearly 1.5 million new infections last week, marking the sixth consecutive week that new infections have topped 1 million in metropolitan counties.

A record-breaking 17,461 Covid-related deaths were reported in metropolitan counties last week.

This week’s Daily Yonder Covid-19 report covers Sunday, January 3 through Saturday, January 9.

  • Ninety-five percent (1,873) of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties were in the red zone last week, meaning they had a weekly new infection rate of 100 cases or more per 100,000 residents. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has said counties in the red zone need to take additional measures to control the virus. (The White House task force has changed its state-level weekly reports to a single national report, available here as a 10 megabyte PDF.)
  • More than a third of rural counties (783) had very high rates of new infections, defined by the White House as 500 or more new cases per week per 100,000 residents.
  • The Upper Midwest led the nation in new infection rates for much of the fall. But the nation’s most troubled regions now include the upper South, the Southwest, plus the lower portions of Great Lakes states. 
  • In the West, all counties in Arizona and southern California are in the very high category. 
  • West Virginia was in similar straits, with all counties in the very high category.
  • Deeper in the South, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas had large numbers of counties in the very-high zone. 
  • Oklahoma, southeast Kansas, and parts of Texas demark another region facing very high rates of new infections.
  • Georgia appeared to be faring better than its neighboring states. But very high positivity rates in the state (28.5% in rural counties, 23.4% in metropolitan counties) indicates that the lower infection rates may be related to reduced levels of testing, not better control of the virus.
  • If there is a bright spot in this week’s analysis, it’s in the handful of counties in the Northern Great Plains that fall below the red-zone threshold. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska saw some relief from the extremely high rates of new infections they suffered throughout most of the fall.
  • The weekly death rate remained significantly higher in rural counties than in metropolitan ones. Rural counties also had a higher rate of new infections last week, after a one-week reversal that resulted from interruptions in test reporting during the holidays. (See graphs below.)