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Rural counties are among the safest from the threat of Covid-19. They are also among the riskiest.

The Daily Yonder looked at new cases of Covid-19 for the month of May and found rural America at both ends of the pandemic spectrum in the United States. 

On one hand, 352 rural counties reported no cases of Covid-19 infections in May. That number includes 171 rural counties that have never had a case of Covid-19, plus another 181 counties that reported no new cases in May but had cases previously.

Another 500 rural counties reported five or fewer new cases of Covid-19 in May.

The rural counties that have experienced relatively little direct impact from the coronavirus tend to cluster in the center of the nation in the Great Plains and the intermountain West. Other prominent regions in light blue (no cases in May) and dark blue (10 or fewer cases in May) are southern Missouri, northern Michigan and Wisconsin, and smaller swaths of the Northeast.

The trouble-spots in rural America are dispersed. They show up as specks of black scattered across all the nation’s rural regions, with the exception of the far West. Like the regions they represent, the circumstances of these rural hotspots are also diverse.

First on the list is the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Home to the Navajo Nation, the region has infection and death rates that rival any in the U.S., rural or urban. 

The rural county with the greatest number of deaths in May was McKinley County, New Mexico, with 91. The county was also prominent in nationally, despite a population of only 73,000.  It ranked 97th out of all U.S. counties (rural and metropolitan). For comparison’s sake, the county ranked directly above McKinley, with eight more deaths than McKinley for the month of May, is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with a population nearly eight times greater than McKinley’s. 

McKinley County also had the greatest number of new infections among rural counties, with 1,388. The hotspot in McKinley and nearby counties in three other states is the result of specific conditions in Indian Country.

Hotspot counties in other parts of the country (the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes States, and Deep South) were far less concentrated and linked to the meatpacking industry, prisons, and nursing homes.

Of the 100 counties nationally with the highest infection rates for May, three quarters were rural.

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