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The rate of new Covid-19 infections climbed by more than a third last week, but the rural rate remained lower than the new infection rate in metropolitan counties, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

Meanwhile, the weekly number of deaths from Covid-19 dropped by nearly a third in rural counties and remained relatively stable in metropolitan America.

Growing Number of Infections

New infections climbed to about 65,000 in rural America last week, up from 48,000 two weeks ago. Last week’s new cases were the largest number reported in rural counties since early March, when the nation was emerging from the Omicron surge.

Metropolitan counties reported 708,000 new infections last week, an increase of about 26% from two weeks ago.

The actual number of new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. is likely much higher, in part because Americans can test at home and those results are generally not part of public-health reports.

Whatever the actual number of infections, the trend in the data indicates that Covid-19 is on the rise in most parts of the U.S.  The rural rate of new infections is nearly four times higher than it was at the end of this springs Omicron surge. In metropolitan counties, the current rate of new infections is five times higher than the low point following the Omicron surge.

Red Zone Counties on the Rise

Another sign that new infections are on the rise is the increase in the number of counties in the red zone, defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 residents in one week’s time.

The number of rural red-zone counties grew by about a third last week. Just over half of the nation’s 1,976 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties are in the red zone, up from about 30% two weeks ago.

Red-zone counties are even more prevalent in metropolitan areas. Eighty percent of the nation’s 1,165 metropolitan counties were in the red zone last week, up from about 60% two weeks ago.

Deaths Declined

The good news is that Covid-related deaths declined last week after a one-week uptick. Rural Covid deaths fell about 30%, from 525 two weeks ago to 366 last week.

In metropolitan counties, the death rate fell just 3%, from 1,741 two weeks ago to 1,696 last week.

The rural death rate remained higher than the metropolitan death rate last week, a well established trend that began in the summer of 2020. In the past 22 months, the weekly death rate has been higher in rural counties than metropolitan ones for all but five weeks.

The cumulative Covid-19 death rate is currently 30% higher in rural counties than metropolitan ones. Rural counties have had a higher cumulative death rate since December 2020.

Other Trends

  • Only six states had higher rates of new infection in their rural counties than metropolitan ones: Alaska, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, and West Virginia.
  • Texas had the biggest percentage increase in new cases last in rural America week, with the number of new rural cases more than doubling. The percentage increase in metropolitan counties was even bigger.
  • Seven other states saw their rural infections more than double last week. These were Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, and Idaho.
  • Thirty two states saw an increase in the number of rural red-zone counties last week.

This analysis covers May 31 through June 6, 2022. Data is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community profiles. Rural is defined as nonmetropolitan, or counties that are not part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget in 2013.

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