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The rate of new Covid-19 infections in rural America remains relatively low, but two-thirds of all rural counties were in the red zone last week, indicating that they were having difficulty containing the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Daily Yonder analysis.

Nearly 1,300 of the nation’s 1,976 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties were in the red zone last week. That’s 10 times higher than the number of rural counties than were in the red zone at the end of the Omicron surge in late winter.

The percentage of metropolitan counties in the red zone is even higher. More than eight out of every 10 metropolitan counties are in the red zone.

Despite the growth in the number of red-zone counties, the overall infection rates in both rural and metropolitan counties have remained relatively stable. That could be an indication that vaccinations and mitigation practices are helping contain the virus. Another factor could be a reduction in the reporting of infections because of more at-home testing for the virus.

Rural counties reported 158 new infections per 100,000 residents last week, a 19% increase from two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties reported 234 new infections per 100,000 residents, an increase of about 21%.

The metro rate was significantly higher than the rural rate last week – continuing a trend that goes back to April at the conclusion of the Omicron surge.

Deaths

The rural death rate from Covid-19 climbed nearly 50% last week, up to 412 from 277 two weeks ago. In metropolitan counties, 2,180 residents died from Covid-related causes, an increase of about 25% from two weeks ago.

The rural death rate of 0.89 per 100,000 residents was slightly higher than the metropolitan death rate of 0.77. Two weeks ago the rural death rate was lower than the metro death rate for the first time in more than a year.

Since the start of the pandemic, about 177,000 rural Americans have died from Covid-19. In metropolitan counties, about 790,000 residents have died from Covid-related causes. Despite the difference in raw numbers, the cumulative rural death rate is about third higher than the metropolitan rate because the rural population base is smaller.

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