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The Omicron variant hit rural America in earnest last week, setting a record for the number of new Covid-19 infections in a single seven-day period, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

Rural counties reported 393,000 new infections last week. The previous record was 232,000 new cases, recorded one year ago this week at the height of the winter 2021 surge.

New infections in rural America more than doubled last week, climbing by 205,000. That’s the largest single-week increase in new cases since the pandemic hit rural America in March 2020.

Although the Omicron variant was initially slower to move into rural America, rural counties are now seeing higher rates of infection increase than metropolitan areas. New infections grew by 110% in rural counties last week. In metropolitan counties, new cases grew by 60%.

Deaths are also on the rise in both rural and metropolitan America, after declining slightly two weeks ago. The number of Covid-related deaths in rural counties climbed about 20% last week, to 2,264. In metropolitan counties, deaths grew by 25%, to 8,407.

Deaths are a trailing indicator of Covid-19 infections, so last week’s increase in deaths could be related to infections that began weeks ago, before the onset of the Omicron surge in rural counties. Infections caused by the Omicron variant are generally less severe than previous variants of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Rural Cases Spread More Quickly

  • The rural infection rate increased last week in every state except Maine and Maryland, which saw modest decreases in rural infection rates. The metropolitan infection rate increased everywhere except Washington, D.C., and Georgia.
  • North Dakota had the largest one-week increase in new cases, with rural infections increasing by nearly 320%, just slightly higher than the state’s 300% increase in metropolitan cases.
  • Thirty-one states saw at least a 100% increase in new rural infections last week. The metropolitan infection rate grew by at least 100% in 25 states.
  • All but a handful of rural and urban counties had infection rates in the red zone, meaning they had 100 or more new infections per 100,000 population for a one-week period.

The Map

  • On the map above, black and gray counties have the highest rates of infection – more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents for a one-week period. Rural high-infection counties are shown in black; metropolitan high-infection counties are shown in gray.
  • Red and light red counties have infection rates of 100 to 500 new cases per 100,000 for the week. Red is rural; light red is metropolitan.

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