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New Covid-19 infections increased slightly in rural America last week, while the number of Covid-related deaths declined for the second week in a row.

New infections in rural counties increased about 6%, while Covid-related deaths fell by about 9%.

The gap between rural America’s infection and death rates narrowed slightly last week (see graphs below). But the rural infection rate remained 50% higher than the metropolitan rate. And the rural Covid-19 death rate remained two times higher than the metropolitan rate for the fifth week in a row.

Rural Trouble Spots

  • Michigan had the highest rural infection rate last week, 20% higher than the next highest state, Minnesota. Three-quarters of Michigan’s rural counties had very high infection rates – over 500 new cases per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period. These counties are shown in black on the map at the top of the story. Metropolitan high-infection counties are shown in gray. Counties with 100-500 new cases per 100,000 are shown in red (rural) and pink (metro). Counties below 100 new cases per 100,000 for the week are shown in green (rural) and light green (metro).
  • Pennsylvania, which had the highest rural infection rate last week, dropped to fifth, reducing its rural infection rate by more than 10% last week. But high numbers of new infections in northern and western Pennsylvania drove the rural infection rate 75% higher than the metropolitan infection rate.
  • Other states with high rural infection rates were scattered across the northern Midwest and the Southwest. Besides Pennsylvania and Minnesota, other states with very high rural infection rates (over 500 new cases per 100,000 for the week) were North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Arizona.
  • The Northeast, which missed the first months of the Delta-variant surge, had several states with rural rates over 400 new infections per 100,000 for the week. These included New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Maine.

Where There Is Improvement

  • Nine of the 11 states with lowest rural infection rates were in the South. These included Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Other states that saw improvement in rural infection rates last week were Nebraska (23% lower than two weeks ago), Utah (26% lower), and Wyoming (21% lower).
  • Nationwide, about half of the nation’s 1,976 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties had lower rural infection rates than two weeks ago. Among the nation’s 1,165 metropolitan counties, only a third had better infection rates last week compared to two weeks ago.
  • Ninety-four rural counties reported no new infections last week.

Rural Counties with Highest Infection Rates

  • On the other end of the spectrum, 19 rural counties reported infection rates of over 1,000 per 100,000 residents, meaning more than 1% of the county’s population contracted Covid-19 in a single week. Most of these counties had small populations, and small differences in reported cases can mean large percentage changes. But seven counties of these high-infection counties had populations of more than 10,000.
  • The rural county with the highest infection rate in the country was Scurry County, Texas, where 254 new infections resulted in an infection rate of over 1,500 per 100,000. Big Horn County, Montana, also had an infection rate of over 1,500 per 100,000.
  • Alaska had two county equivalents (the state does not have counties) on the list: Bethel Census Area, with an infection rate of just under 1,100 new cases per 100,000, and the Nome area, which had a new infection rate of nearly 1,500 per 100,000 for the week.
  • Michigan also had two counties on this list: Mason, with an infection rate of 1,100 per 100,000, and Shiawassee, with a rate of just over 1,000 per 100,000.
  • Rounding out the list of rural counties with the highest infection rates is Roseau County, Minnesota, which had an infection rate of just over 1,000 per 100,000 for the week. Missouri is not included in this week’s mapping because of data anomalies.
  • Missouri is not included in this week’s mapping because of data anomalies. Data from USA Facts reported an 85% reduction in cases last week, while data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that cases nearly doubled.