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Covid-19 continued its rapid spread in rural America last week, setting a record for new infections for the sixth consecutive week and placing three out of every four rural counties on the red-zone list.

New infections reached 110,130 for the week of Sunday to Saturday, October 25-31, an increase of 16% from the previous week. 

An additional 154 rural counties were added to the red-zone list last week, bringing the total to record high of 1,502.

The red zone is a term used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to designate localities where the spread of the virus is out of control. Red-zone counties have a rate of at least 100 new infections per 100,000 in population.

The number of Covid-related deaths dropped slightly last week, to 1,535 from 1,558 the week before.

Rural areas again had a disproportionate share of the nation’s new infections and deaths. Although about 14% of the U.S. population lives in nonmetropolitan counties (which is the definition of rural this story is using), 20.5% of the new cases and 24.3% of the new deaths occurred in rural areas. 

October a Difficult Month

October has been the worst month so far for the spread of Covid-19 in rural counties. 

Covid-related deaths totaled 5,950 in rural counties during the month, an increase of 30% from September. During the same period, deaths in medium and large metropolitan areas declined by 11%.

Rural counties had record-breaking numbers of new cases each week of October. 

Approximately 389,000 rural Americans tested positive for Covid in October, 75% higher than the number who tested positive in September. In medium and large metropolitan areas, the number of new infections grew by about 50% for the same period. 

The week of September 20-26 there were 1,399 counties in the red zone (422 metro and 977 rural). The last week of October, which ended Saturday, there were 2,264 counties in the red zone (762 metro and 1,502 rural). Red-zone counties have a weekly new-infection rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents — a level the White House Coronavirus Task Force considers to be out of control. (Daily Yonder graphic)

Metropolitan Counties

The current surge is also gaining ground in metro areas. New cases in metropolitan counties numbered 428,468, topping the record set in the third week of July during the summer wave. Two-thirds of metropolitan counties were on the red zone list last week. The death toll last week of 4,068 Americans in metro counties remains well below the summer’s peak of more than 6,000.