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For the second week in a row, rural counties have had the highest number of new cases of Covid-19 in a seven-day period since the pandemic began.

From June 17-24, rural (nonmetropolitan) counties had 23,366 new cases of Covid-19.

The most recent figure broke the previous rural record of 19,022 new cases, which was set the week of June 9-16.

Rural America’s cumulative total of Covid-19 cases climbed by 13% over the last week, from approximately 180,000 cases to 203,000 as of June 24, according to USA Facts

That’s faster than the national rate of growth, which was 9% during the same period.

The graphs tell the national rural story. The first graph shows the new cases for rural counties, shown as a seven-day rolling average, which reveals the longer-term trends.

The graph shows that new cases in rural America plateaued in late April, declined for about a month, and then started to climb again around May 20. The growth in new cases has been especially steep since mid-June.

The second graph shows how rural America’s increase in new cases is part of a larger national trend. In the graph below, rural cases are represented by the green line.

The orange line represents the suburbs of major metropolitan areas (populations of 1 million and up). The rapid increase in cases in these counties in early April is largely the result of the spread of Covid-19 in counties surrounding New York City. By late April, new cases had peaked in these counties and began a long decline until mid-June.

The core counties of these major metropolitan areas are represented by the blue line. These counties also saw a decline in new cases in late April, though not at as steep a fall as the suburbs. 

After initial increases, the remaining counties (medium sized metros of 500,000 to under 1 million residents; small metros under 500,000, and nonmetropolitan counties) leveled off before increases that began to show in mid-May. 

New cases in medium-sized metros accelerated quickly around the first of June. By the second week of June, the pattern of increase was universal across all county categories. In the last few days, small-sized metro counties have had a decline in new cases, while the rest of the nation appears to be accelerating in new cases.

Beneath these national trends, the spread of Covid-19 continues to be highly variable in rural America. Nearly 600 rural counties (about a third of the total number of rural counties) have not had a single case in the last week. More than 400 have not had a case in the last two weeks.

But the rural counties that are adding cases are having a rough time. The red counties in the map added more than 50 cases during the last week. Many of these counties are also in the hotspot list we ran June 24

Navajo County, Arizona, which is part of the outbreak that has dealt a hard blow to the Navajo Nation, had the most new cases among rural counties, adding 477 in the last seven days. Also in red are the nearby counties of Apache, Arizona, and McKinely, New Mexico.

In the South, counties with a high percentage of African American residents are hard hit. The virus has expanded across the Louisiana state line into Texas, with new outbreaks in southern Texas and the border region.

One factor in the Southwest appears to the proportion of Hispanic residents. Starr County, Texas, for example, with more than 95% of the population Hispanic or Latino, added nearly 200 cases.

Prisons and meatpacking plants are the other major contributors to high infection rates in rural areas.

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