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The number of Covid-19 cases reported in rural counties climbed by more than 61,000 last week, setting a record for new infections in a single week and placing half of all rural counties on the White House’s red-zone list.

The number of new infections in rural America was 14% higher last week compared to the previous period, according to the Daily Yonder’s analysis. Since mid-September, the weekly number of new infections in rural counties has climbed by 48%. 

A record-breaking 990 of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties were on the red-zone list last week, meaning they had an infection rate of 100 or more new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in population. 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force says localities on the red-zone list should take additional measures to control the virus. (Read examples of those White House recommendations in these reports obtained by the Center for Public Integrity: Missouri State Report, September 20, and Missouri State Report, September 27).

This Daily Yonder coronavirus analysis covers Sunday to Saturday, September 20-26. 

General Trends

  • Rural counties had 61,420 new cases of Covid-19 September 20-26. That’s 7,700 more than the week before.
  • New deaths in all rural counties were 1,030 last week, down from the previous week’s 1,135 deaths.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, 19,141 Covid-19-related deaths have occurred in rural America. 
  • 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 20.8% of the new infections last week. (See graphs below.)

Regional Changes

  • The number of red-zone counties continued to increase in the Midwest and Great Plains, in states such as Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. 
  • North and South Dakota now rank first and second in the highest percentage of rural counties on the red-zone list. Minnesota added 15 rural counties to the red-zone list. (See the table at the bottom of the story for more information on the number of red-zone counties in each state.)
  • In the South, Georgia had 10 fewer counties on the red-zone list last week but still had a majority of its rural counties in the red zone.
  • Louisiana had seven fewer rural counties on the red-zone list last week. 
  • North Carolina added 18 rural counties to the red-zone list.
  • In addition to Georgia and North Carolina, six other Southern states had more than half of their rural counties on the red-zone list (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida,  Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee).
  • Texas added 18 rural counties to the red-zone list last week, the largest increase for any state. About 42% of the state’s rural counties are on the list.

Comparison to Metropolitan Counties

  • Metropolitan counties reported about 246,000 new cases last week, an increase of about 12,000 over the previous week’s number of new cases. But metropolitan new cases remained well below their peak of 408,000 new cases, set in late July. 
  • Nine additional metro counties went on the red-zone list last week, bringing the total to 429 counties. The number of metro counties on the red-zone list has grown for two consecutive weeks but is still well below its late July peak of 533 counties.  
  • In metro counties, deaths for the week also declined by 200 to just under 4,200. 

The Expanding Red Zone

  • Nearly half (908) of all rural counties had increasing numbers of new Covid-19 cases last week. About a third – or 601 rural counties – reported a decline in cases, while the remainder had little or no change.
  • Nineteen states (three more than the previous week) had a majority of their rural counties on the red-zone list. (See table below.)
  • Four out of every five new infections in rural America came from a county on the red-zone list. Only about half of new cases in metropolitan areas came from red-zone counties.