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The number of people in rural America who die from Covid-19 each day has more than doubled in the last two weeks, as the infection continues to spread in nonmetropolitan areas.
Rural America saw its 10,000th death from Covid-19 on Friday, July 30. The number of deaths in rural America from the coronavirus now stands at 10,313.
Also last week, 12 more rural counties were added to the “red-zone” list, bringing the total number of rural counties on the list to 746, which is more than a third of all rural counties. Red-zones, a designation created by the White House, are those with new-infection rates of at least 100 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. (The Daily Yonder analyzed new cases from July 16 to August 1.)
In a bit of good news, the increase of red-zone counties this week was far below the previous week’s increase of 104 counties.
The map shows both urban and rural red-zone counties (rural counties are dark red, metropolitan counties are light red). Counties in green and light green fall below the red-zone case rate of 100 new cases per 100,000 population in one week. The map also shows the handful of counties that had no new cases in the last week.
The surge of cases in rural America has caught the attention of the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Deborah Birx, M.D., told CNN that the pandemic has entered a new phase, with rural areas that didn’t have many infections this spring now experiencing spikes.
“What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” she said. “It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas.”
She added: “To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus. If you’re in multi-generational households, and there’s an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive, if you have individuals in your households with comorbidities.”
President Donald Trump later said on Twitter that Birx’s comments were “pathetic” and a “hit” on his administration.
From July 16 to August 1, the average number of rural residents who are dying each day from Covid-19 climbed from 77 to 171. The number of rural deaths in July was 70% higher than the number of deaths in June.
Rural deaths now constitute 6.7% of all deaths in the U.S. cumulatively, up by more than 2 points from July 1.
The map tells the story. The South (both urban and rural) is the epicenter of this phase of the pandemic. All but a handful of counties, from North Carolina and Tennessee across to Louisiana, are in the red zone. Most of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are also red-zone counties.
Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky fare better, with relatively few red-zone counties.
Thirteen states have more than half of their rural counties in red zones. All of these states except one (Arizona) are in the Census-defined Southern region. They are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas.
One hundred sixty-nine rural counties have seen spikes in their infection rates over the past week. These include 25 rural counties in Georgia, 23 in Texas, 19 in Tennessee, 13 in Missouri, and 12 in Oklahoma.
For the second week in a row, nonmetropolitan counties saw an increase in the number of new Covid-19 cases while metropolitan counties saw a decrease. New rural infections climbed by 3% to 57,739 from July 26 to August 1. The number of new metropolitan cases for the week declined by 20,000 cases (or about 5%) to 379,403.