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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the one-week change in rural deaths. The number of deaths increased by 97, which equates to a 4.5% increase from two weeks ago. Earlier, we incorrectly stated that deaths had declined by 56 for the week. We are sorry for the error.

The rate of new Covid-19 infections and deaths in rural America remained steady last week.

Rural counties reported approximately 146,000 new infections last week, a decline of about 1% from the week before.

Rural counties had 2,253 Covid-related deaths last week, up 97 from the week before -- an increase of 4.5%.

In metropolitan counties, new infections increased by 6% and deaths increased by nearly 4%.

Since the start of the pandemic, 139,000 rural Americans have died from Covid-19. In the second half of 2021, the rural death rate from Covid-19 has been, on average, two times higher than the urban death rate.

This week’s Daily Yonder report on Covid-19 covers Sunday, December 5, through Saturday, December 11, 2021. Data comes from USA Facts, except for death statistics for Florida, Nebraska, and New Jersey, which come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall Improvement in Rural Rates

  • Only 18 states reported higher rates of Covid-19 infection in rural counties last week. That’s down significantly from the 39 states that had higher rural infection rates two weeks ago.
  • Despite the relative improvement, the rural infection rate remained 30% higher than the metropolitan rate. The rural infection rate has been significantly higher than the metropolitan rate since the first month of the Delta variant surge. Before mid-August, the rural and urban infection rates had been roughly equal and moved up and down in parallel throughout 2021.

Regional Variation

  • Wyoming had the biggest percentage jump in rural cases last week, with 1,042 new infections, more than twice the number two weeks ago. But the state has fewer than 600,000 residents, so small changes in infection numbers have a bigger impact on rates.
  • Oklahoma and Iowa saw increases in rural infection rates of about 60%.
  • New England continued to battle a surge. Vermont had the nation's highest rural infection rate last week, at 680 new cases per 100,000 residents. But new cases climbed by only about 5% in Vermont last week, an indication that the surge may be waning there. Two weeks ago, rural cases more than doubled.
  • Maine and New Hampshire had the second and fourth highest rural infection rates in the nation last week. Maine’s rural cases climbed about 40% while New Hampshire’s rural infection dropped slightly from two weeks ago, another indication that the region may moving out of its current surge.

Relief for the Great Lakes, Concerns for the South?

  • After weeks of sharp increases in new infections, the eight states touching the Great Lakes appeared to be improving. The states still have high infection rates, but new rural cases dropped by 30% in Michigan and 18% in New York. Infection rates fell by smaller margins in Indiana and Minnesota. The remaining four states (Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) had lower rates of increase last week than two weeks ago.
  • The Deep South and lower Midwest again showed signs of increased spreading of Covid-19. Alabama added six rural red-zone counties and saw a 14% increase in rural infections. (The red zone is defined as having more than 100 new cases per 100,000 in a one-week period.)  Mississippi added 10 rural counties to its red-zone list and had a 30% increase in rural case. Texas added 19 rural counties to its red-zone list but had only a modest gain of 7% in rural cases. Other states in region had higher numbers of rural red-zone counties but didn’t see gains in the raw number of rural cases. Arkansas added eight rural red-zone counties, and Oklahoma added 14.

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