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The number of new Covid-19 cases in rural America declined last week, while coronavirus-related deaths grew slightly to a record high of 4,127.

New infections declined by 19% last week in rural counties. Deaths increased by 1%.

The cumulative rural death toll surpassed 60,000 last week. Rural America currently has 50% more deaths than New York, which leads the nation in Covid-related fatalities with about 41,000.

Rural counties are responsible for 15.6% of all Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. The rural population constitutes approximately 14% of the U.S. population, according to the definition the Daily Yonder uses in its coronavirus analysis.

In new infections last week, the number of counties with very high rates of new cases (more than 500 cases per 100,000 for the week) declined last week. But counties in the red zone (100 or more new cases per 100,000 in a week) remained high.

In rural areas, counties with very high infection rates (shown in black in the map) fell by a third to 505. Metro counties with very high infection rates (shown in gray) also fell by about a third to 336.

Nine out of every 10 rural counties were in the red zone last week (shown in dark red). The rate of metropolitan counties in the red zone (shown in lighter red on the map) last week was even worse. All but 16 of the nation’s 1,650 metro counties (or about 1%) were in the red zone. The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends that localities in the red zone take additional steps to contain the virus.

There were 187,969 new coronavirus infections last week in rural counties, a decline of 19% from the previous week’s record level of about 232,000. The decline in new cases of Covid-19 was broad-based, with the new-infection rates in rural counties dropping by at least 10 cases per 100,000 in 70% of nonmetro counties. Only 24% of rural counties had an increase of at least 10 new cases per 100,000.

This week’s Daily Yonder Covid-19 report covers Sunday, January 10 through Saturday, January 16.

  • This week’s map shows a continued decline in infection rates in the upper Midwest, formerly the epicenter of the rural pandemic in the United States. The easing in infection rates was centered on North Dakota, followed by Montana, Nebraska, and a few counties in South Dakota.
  • From Minnesota to Ohio almost all counties are on the Red Zone list, but there are now very few instances of very high levels (greater than 500 cases per 100,000 people) of new cases.
  • Southern California and Arizona continue to have large numbers of counties with very high rates. Oklahoma, southern Texas, and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi through the Carolinas and into Virginia continue to have numerous very-high counties.  Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia rural counties continue to struggle.
  • Upstate New York stands out with higher new-infection rates among all rural counties in the Northeast.
  • Another indication that the nation’s infection rates may be headed in a downward direction is a 17%  drop in the test positivity rate, week to week.  The number of states with a test positivity rate of 10% or higher dropped from 36 to 25 last week. The test positivity rate is the ratio of new infections to the total number of tests given. A sustained test positivity rate below 5% is needed to get the virus under control, according to experts. The Daily Yonder began using this indicator last week after gaining access to more detailed county-level data.
  • January is on track to be the deadliest month in the pandemic. With half of the month tabulated, there have been 8,900 deaths in rural counties alone. In all of December, there were 16,179 Covid-related deaths. The average number of deaths each day in rural America for January is 556, compared to 522 in December.
  • The preliminary case fatality rate (CFR is calculated as a ratio of cumulative deaths divided by cumulative cases) for rural counties began ticking up on January 1, after continuously falling since the end of April. For rural counties, the case fatality rate stood at 1.74 deaths per 100 cases on Saturday, January 16.
  • In metro counties, the case fatality rate is slightly lower at 1.65%  (The case fatality rate in an outbreak of a deadly disease declines as healthcare becomes more effective. Currently, it is a preliminary number because of the way public health agencies report case data.)

More information is available on the Daily Yonder’s Covid-19 Dashboard.