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The number of new Covid-19 infections in rural America jumped by 30% last week, reversing a short-lived decline in new cases and putting a record number of rural counties on the red-zone list.

New deaths from Covid-19 also grew last week, increasing by 20% and bringing the total number of rural Americans who have died as a result of the pandemic to 18,128.

The Daily Yonder’s weekly red-zone report covers new coronavirus cases and deaths for the previous Sunday to Saturday. This week’s report covers September 13-19.

The number of rural counties on the red-zone list climbed to 909 last week. The previous record was set the first week of September, when 806 rural counties were on the list.

“Red-zone” is a term used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to designate localities where the spread of the coronavirus is out of control. Counties on the red-zone list have a rate of 100 or more new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 for a one-week period.

White House mitigation recommendations for red-zone locations include such measures as limiting social gatherings to no more than 10 people, decreasing hours and occupancy on bars and restaurants, increasing testing, and making retail establishments require customers to wear masks. (Read sample White House reports [obtained via the Center for Public Integrity] to the government of North Dakota for the weeks of September 13 and 30.)

The map above shows red-zone counties for both rural and metropolitan counties and includes popup data for all U.S. counties.

Here are key points from this week’s red-zone report:

  • Rural America’s 1,976 rural (or nonmetropolitan) counties produced 53,852 new Covid-19 infections last week, an increase of more than 12,000 cases from the previous week.
  • The number of coronavirus-related deaths in rural America last week was 1,148, an increase of 189.
  • Nearly half (45%) of the nation’s rural counties were on the red-zone list last week.
  • The number of new coronavirus deaths and infections is disproportionately rural. While rural counties represent only about 14% of the U.S. population, they produced 19.7% of the Covid-19 deaths and 18.8% of the new infections last week. (See graphs below.)

Regional Differences

  • The Midwest and Northern Great Plains are emerging as the new epicenter of the pandemic for nonmetropolitan counties.
  • In Wisconsin, 25 additional rural counties joined the red-zone list last week. More than 90% of the state’s 46 rural counties are on the red-zone list. (See the table at the bottom of this article for a list showing the number of red-zone counties in each state.)
  • Other Plains and Midwestern states adding significant numbers of rural counties to the red-zone list were Iowa (20 new rural counties on the red-zone list), Illinois (16 new rural counties), South Dakota (14 new rural counties), Kansas (12 new rural counties), North Dakota (nine new rural counties), and Oklahoma (six new rural counties).
  • The South remains a hotspot region. In Tennessee, 46 of the state’s 53 rural counties are on the hotspot list. In Arkansas, an additional 28 rural counties went on the red-zone list last week.
  • Sixteen states have half or more of their rural counties on the red-zone list.

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