New Covid-19 infections in rural America declined for the ninth consecutive week, dropping to their lowest level in 10 months, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

Rural counties reported about 25,200 new infections, down 17% from two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the infection rate in metropolitan counties headed in the opposite direction. New cases of Covid-19 grew about 28% last week, to a total of about 174,000.

The result is that the metropolitan infection rate is higher than the rural infection rate for the first time since mid-January. The difference is slight – the metro rate is just 12% higher than the rural rate – and is still low compared to rates during the Delta and Omicron surges of fall 2021 and winter 2021-22 respectively.

Deaths

Rural America had a third fewer Covid-related deaths last week compared to two weeks ago. Rural counties reported 1,164 deaths, compared to 1,723 two weeks ago.

Deaths fell at a similar rate in metropolitan counties, which reported about 3,600 Covid-related deaths last week, a reduction of about 27% from two weeks ago.

The weekly death rate remained significantly higher in rural America. Last week’s rural death rate of 2.53 deaths per 100,000 residents was nearly twice that of the metropolitan death rate of 1.29 per 100,000.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 170,000 rural Americans have died from Covid-19, while about 761,000 metropolitan Americans have died. The cumulative rural death rate is about a third higher than the metropolitan cumulative death rate (368 vs 270 per 100,000 residents)

The Map

The lower infection rates have led us to change our infection-rate map (see the top of this article). We’ve shifted the scale downward so we can differentiate counties that reported no new Covid-19 cases last week. About 17% of rural counties reported no new infections last week (343 counties out of 1,1976). In metropolitan areas, about 5% of counties reported no new cases (57 of 1,165). The majority of these counties were in the Great Plains and Intermountain West.

Map Key

  • Light gray (rural) and dark gray (metro) counties reported no new cases of Covid-19 last week.
  • Dark green (rural) and light green (metro) counties reported a total of fewer than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents for the week.
  • Dark red (rural) and light red (metro) counties reported 100 or more new cases per 100,000 for the week.

New England and New York had relatively high numbers of “red-zone” counties – localities where there were more than 100 new cases per 100,000 for the week compared to the rest of the U.S. Eastern and southern Kentucky remained hot spots, as did numerous counties in central Virginia.

This article defines rural as counties that are not part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to the Office of Management and Budget (2013). For more on rural definitions, visit the USDA Economic Research Service.

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