Sign up for our newsletter

Full screen map

Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in the Upper Midwest, where high rates of new infections are the norm in most rural counties.

More than 90% of rural counties in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and North Dakota have troublesome levels of new infections, according to a Daily Yonder analysis. Iowa has 66 of its 78 rural counties (or 85%) with high rates of infection. Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota each has high rates of infection in two-thirds of their rural counties.

Those rural counties are on the Daily Yonder’s red-zone list. The red-zone is a White House Coronavirus Task Force designation that identifies localities that need to do more to control the virus. Red-zone counties have infection rates of 100 more new cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period.

Read examples of White House reports to states with high rates of new infections. The reports (Minnesota 9/27/2020 and Minnesota 10/04/2020 ) were made available by the Center for Public Integrity.



As of last week, 23 states had more than half of their rural counties on the red-zone list. Just a month ago, only 12 states had more than half their rural counties on the list.

Last week, an additional 68 rural counties went on the red-zone list, bringing the total number of rural counties on the list to a record-breaking 1,058. The increase was most pronounced in the Upper Midwest. Kansas added 17 red-zone rural counties last week. Minnesota added 18, and Nebraska added 16. 

A bit further to the West, Montana added 20 counties to the red-zone list.

There were also signs of increased rural infections east of the Mississippi River. North Carolina added 13 counties to the red-zone list. Kentucky and Indiana each added 12 counties.

The Daily Yonder also calculated the rate of new rural infections state by state. The findings underline the difficulties that the Upper Midwest and nearby states are having controlling the virus in rural areas. North Dakota and South Dakota had the highest rate of new infections in rural counties last week. The next nine states with the worst new rural infection rates are all west of the Mississippi. In descending order of new rural infection rates are Wisconsin, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Vermont and Maine, the two most rural states in the Union by percentage of population, had the best new rural infection rates — 5.7 and 9.4 new cases per 100,000, respectively. Neighboring New Hampshire had the third best rural rate, with 16.1.

Nationally, the rate of new infections and deaths was worse in rural counties than in urban ones. The nonmetro new infection rate was 127.8 per 100,000, vs. 83.5 for metropolitan counties. The nonmetro death rate from Covid-19 for the period was 2.4 per 100,000, while the metro rate was 1.3.