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For the first time since early June, both Covid-related deaths and new infections declined last week in rural counties, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

New infections in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties dropped by about 20%, to a total of 159,204. It’s the second consecutive week of declines in new infections.

Surprisingly, fewer Covid-related deaths were reported in rural counties last week. Deaths fell by a modest 3%, to 3,102. After previous surges, the number of Covid-related deaths continued to climb for several weeks after new infections had peaked.

Metropolitan infections and deaths also fell. That means rural counties continue to have worse infection and death rates from Covid-19. (See the graphs above.) The rural infection rate is two-thirds higher than the metropolitan rate (346 versus 207 per 100,000 residents). The rural death rate is 90% higher than the metropolitan one (6.73 versus 3.57 per 100,000).

The rural infection rate is higher than the metro rate in 37 of the 47 states that contain nonmetropolitan counties. The rural death rate is higher in 38 states.

Alaska is the nation's new hotspot, both for rural and metropolitan infections and deaths. Infections were up by more than 150% for both rural and urban areas. Statewide, deaths increased five fold to 83, up from 14 two weeks ago. Deaths in rural Alaska grew from three two weeks ago to 24 last week.

This week’s report covers Sunday, September 26, through Saturday, October 2. Data comes from USA Facts, supplemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (See note at the bottom of the story for more information).

  • Although overall infection rates have dropped, most of the nation (both metropolitan and rural) remains in the red zone, which is defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 residents for a week. The White House coronavirus task force has said communities above this threshold should take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • Over 90% of metropolitan and rural counties were in the red zone last week.
  • The number of rural red-zone counties dropped by 29. In Texas, 11 fewer rural counties were in the red zone. Georgia dropped 10 counties from the red-zone list.
  • There was more improvement in the number of counties with very-high rates of infection, defined as 500 or more cases per 100,000 for the week. (These counties are shown in black [nonmetro] and grey [metro] on the map above.)
  • The number of counties in the very-high category in rural areas dropped by about 20%, from 496 counties two weeks ago to 391 last week. States with the biggest declines were Kentucky (105 fewer very-high counties), West Virginia (down 62), Montana (down 51), Ohio (down 51), and Tennessee (down 50).
  • Despite overall improvement in infection rates, about a third of the nation’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan counties had more infections last week than two weeks ago. States with the largest number of rural counties with higher infection rates were Texas (46 additional rural counties), Minnesota (44), Michigan (42), Kansas (40), Nebraska (38), and Iowa (25).

Data

This story defines rural as nonmetropolitan counties, using the list created by the Office of Management and Budget in 2013. For more on rural definitions, visit the USDA Economic Research Service website.

Data is from USA Facts and runs through October 2, except for Nebraska, Florida, and New Jersey, where there were data gaps. For these states, we supplemented the data with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data covers the week ending October 3.