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The spread of Covid-19 eased in rural America last week, but more than a third of the nation’s 2,000 rural counties continued to have high rates of new infections.

In addition, for the fifth week in a row, rural counties continued to produce a disproportionately larger share of the nation’s new Covid-19 infections and deaths than its share of the population, according to this week’s Daily Yonder analysis of the pandemic in rural America.

Here are the key findings of this week’s Daily Yonder Covid-19 analysis:

  • For the week of September 6-12, the number of rural counties on the red-zone list dropped from 806 to 701. That’s the first significant drop in more than two months. The White House Coronavirus Task Force defines the red zone as localities with an infection rate of 100 or more new cases per 100,000 in population. That rate indicates that the virus’ spread is out of control, the task force has said. 
  • While the number of rural counties on the red-zone list has been steady or increasing since mid-July, the number of metropolitan counties on the red-zone list has been falling consistently during the same period.
  • Rural counties (which this story defines as nonmetropolitan) accounted for 17.5% of all new cases in the United States last week and 19.1% of deaths. Rural counties have only 14.0% of the U.S. population.  (See graphs below.)
  • The number of deaths in rural counties last week fell below 1,000 for the first time in two months. Nine hundred seventy people died of Covid-19-related causes in rural counties last week.
  • Three out of every four new cases of Covid-19 in rural counties originated in a red-zone county last week. In contrast, only half of the 238,000 new infections in metropolitan counties originated in a red-zone county.
  • The distribution of Covid-19 in rural America remains uneven. Just 12% (or 237) of rural America’s 2,000 counties have generated nearly 60% of all rural Covid-19 infections. The good news for these hot-spot counties is that they generated only 45% of new cases the week of September 12.
  • Twelve states have 50% or more of their rural counties on the red-zone list. Seven of these states are in the South. These are Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (See the table below for more information.) The other five are in the Midwest. These are Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Iowa.
  • Half of rural America’s 2,000 counties saw a decline in the number of new infections last week. Two-hundred forty counties had about the same number of cases week to week. And 730 rural counties had an increase.
  • In metropolitan America, 705 saw a decline in new cases, 28 held steady, and 432 had an increase.