The graph shows the rate per 100,000 of new Covid-19 infections from May 1 to August 13 by county type. Definitions: Major metro core and suburb, metro areas with 1 million or more residents; medium metros, 250,000 to 999,999 residents; small metro, 50,000 to 249,999 residents; nonmetro, counties that are not in a metropolitan statistical area. (Daily Yonder graphic, USA Facts, Census)

Lower population density and geographic isolation are not protecting rural communities from the spread of Covid-19, as some health professionals once hoped they would.

Rural counties are now adding new cases of Covid-19 at a rate above the national average. As of Thursday, August 13, the seven-day average of new cases in rural counties was 16.6 per 100,000 residents. Nationally, the rate is 15.9.

(This article defines rural America as nonmetropolitan counties, which are counties that are not part of a metropolitan statistical area.)

Three months ago, rural counties had the lowest new-infection rate in the nation. Now, rural counties are adding new cases of Covid-19 at a faster clip than small metropolitan areas (those under 250,000 residents) and the suburbs of major metro areas (those with more than 1 million in population).

The trend is a major reversal from the first phase of the pandemic in the United States, when the suburbs of major metropolitan areas had the highest rate of new infections – driven largely by the spread of Covid-19 in the suburbs of New York City.

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The Daily Yonder’s analysis is based on the seven-day average of new cases from May 1 to August 13, the last day for which national data was available from USA Facts at the time we published this article.

In the graph above, the red line represents the rural new-infection rate.

On May 1, rural counties were the least likely to acquire new infections.

In mid-June, a new wave of infections struck the United States. Rural cases climbed at a slower pace than the rest of the nation initially but spiked up compared to the rest of the nation in the second week of July. In the second half of July, while the rest of the nation saw a decrease in new infections, the rural rate continued to climb.

Rural cases declined near the end of July, along with the rest of the nation, but climbed again in early August while the rest of the country cooled or plateaued.

Joe Cortright over at the City Observatory has noted a similar analysis by’s Jed Kolko. Kolko uses a slightly different set of county definitions to analyze new cases but reaches the same conclusion – rural counties are far from immune from Covid-19.

“So much for the theory that fleeing the city will enable you to escape” the coronavirus, says Cortright in a recent newsletter.

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