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This week’s Covid-19 infection map looks like a disaster, but it’s dramatically better than it was just a month ago.

The rate of new infections in rural America dropped by 35% last week, the third consecutive week of significant declines. Since the second half of January, new infections in rural counties have dropped by more than 75%. The metropolitan infection rate fell by a similar amount.

Despite the dramatic gains of the last month, more than 80% of the nation’s rural counties remain in the red zone, meaning they have weekly infection rates of at least 100 new cases per 100,000. (Red-zone counties are shown in dark red [rural] and light red [metro] on the map.)

But the percentage of rural counties with very high rates of infection (defined as 500 or more cases per 100,000 for the week) has fallen from 94% the week of January 22 to just 14% last week. (Counties with very high infection rates are shown on the map in black [rural] and gray [metro].)

The number of Covid-related deaths remained steady last week compared to two weeks ago, rising by less than 1% to 2,744. Since the start of the pandemic, 160,481 rural Americans have died of Covid-19. In metropolitan counties, 730,000 deaths are attributed to Covid-19.

The rural death rate was 50% higher than the metropolitan death rate last week (5.96 vs. 3.92 deaths per 100,000 residents). The rural death rate has been higher than the metropolitan death rate for 76 of the last 81 weeks.

Regional Hotspots

  • Maine’s rural infection rate surged by more than 300% last week, giving the state the highest rural infection rate in the U.S. after ranking just 24th last week. Maine and other New England states were among the first to experience the full impact of the Omicron variant and were therefore among the first to see rates drop as the surge subsided. It’s uncertain whether Maine’s reversal signals a regional return to higher rates or is limited to the state.
  • Nearby Connecticut had a 55% increase in rural infections last week. But the New England state has only one rural (nonmetropolitan) county, so small changes in the number of infections can have a large impact on rates. Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire all had lower infection rates last week compared to two weeks ago.
  • The other region to watch is the upper South and Central Appalachia. Kentucky had the second-highest rural infection rate in the nation last week and was one of only five states to have an increase in new rural infections. Tennessee and West Virginia had the next highest rural infection rates, but new rural infections in each of those states were on the decline last week.

Largest Drop in Infection Rates

  • States that saw the biggest drop in rural infection rates were Wyoming, Florida, Mississippi, and Nebraska. (Washington state officially had a bigger drop, but the decrease was due to a change in record-keeping rather than different conditions on the ground.)
  • The rural infection rate was higher than the metropolitan rate in 39 states last week. This figure has been going up in recent weeks because the Omicron variant hit rural counties later than metropolitan counties and has been slower to leave.

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