The number of Covid-related deaths in rural America dropped by a third last week, the first significant decline in the rural death rate in more than a month.

Rural counties had 2,404 deaths from Covid-19 from Sunday, February 14, through Saturday, February 20. Previously, the weekly number of rural deaths hovered around 3,600 for four consecutive weeks.

The decline in deaths follows a sharp decline in the number of new infections. Since a peak of more than 230,000 new infections in first full week of January, the number of weekly new cases in rural counties has dropped by 75%. Last week the number of new Covid-19 cases in rural counties was 56,296, a third less than the previous week. The last time the rural new-infection count was this low was the third week of September.

A small portion of the decline could be from weather-related interruptions in Covid-19 reporting in Texas. Texas reported 60% fewer cases and 56% fewer deaths last week than the week before. The state was hit with a severe winter storm and low temperatures, resulting in the loss of electricity and an interruption in routine activities.

You can move the vertical line in the middle of the image to see how the map from last week (Feb. 7-13) compares to this week’s map (Feb. 14-20). You will notice a big change in the number of counties that moved from “red” to “green” in the middle of the country, marking a significant drop in the number of new infections.

This week’s map of new infections shows a dramatic decline in infection rates in the center of the nation. Bearing in mind that some of Texas’ apparent improvement was likely due to weather-related under-reporting, new infections dropped significantly from Oklahoma to the central Great Plains to the Great Lakes region.

Here are more highlights from this week’s analysis, which covers Sunday, February 14, through Saturday, February 20.

  • Rural and urban death rates from Covid-19 each dropped by about a third last week, the biggest one-week decline since late July. The rural death rate remained higher than the metropolitan death rate (5.2 vs. 4.2 per 100,000 for the week). The rural death rate has been higher than the metropolitan rate since the first of August.
  • The rate of new infections last week fell by about 30% in both metropolitan and rural counties. The metropolitan infection rate is slightly higher than the nonmetropolitan (or rural) rate – 144 vs. 122 per 100,000 for the week. The metropolitan rate has been higher than the rural rate since late December.
  • Three-fourths of rural counties saw a decline in cases last week. Only one in five rural counties had an increase in cases.
  • The number of rural counties in the red zone, defined as having a rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 over one week, fell significantly. There were 882 red-zone counties last week, down a third from the 1,298 counties reported two weeks ago.
  • Some of that decline could have been part of the weather-related reporting interruptions in Texas, where 77 rural counties moved off the red-zone list last week. Arkansas, which also experienced difficult weather, had 31 rural counties move off the red-zone list last week.
  • Louisiana, Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, and Mississippi all had 20 or more rural counties drop off the red-zone list last week.
  • Three states added counties to their rural red-zone list. Wyoming added four counties; Alaska, 1; and North Dakota, 10.
  • South Carolina had all 20 of its rural counties on the red-zone list. Connecticut’s sole rural county was also in the red zone.
  • North Dakota saw both its metropolitan and rural rates of new infections more than double last week. The statewide rate of new infections was 98 per 100,000 last week, versus 46 per 100,000 two weeks ago.
  • Counties with very high rates of new infection, defined as having more than 500 new infections per 100,000 in one week, now make up a tiny proportion of the nation’s 3,006 counties or county equivalents. Only 18 rural counties were in this category last week. The Daily Yonder added the very-high category during the fall surge. In the third week of November, nearly half of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties were in the very high category.
  • Only 12 of 47 states with rural counties have a higher infection rate in their rural counties than in metro areas. (In declining order of the difference above metro counties these are Alaska, Wyoming, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Louisiana.)
  • Thirty-four states had higher death rates in their rural counties than in metro counties. While Kansas reported an exceptionally high death rate above 72 per 100,000 for the week, death reports often are not registered when they occurred. In total deaths, back to the start of the pandemic in March 2020, 33 states now have had higher death rates for their rural counties as then for their metro counties.
  • The average of Test Positivity Rates (TPRs) for all rural counties is now down to 7.1%, down from an alarming 17.7% in the first week of January. Health professionals say a consistent TPR below 5% will eventually curtail widespread community transmission of the virus. The average Test Positivity Rate in metro counties last week was 8.0%

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