New Cases Put 80% of Rural Counties in the Red Zone

The presidential election offers plenty of evidence that ignoring the coronavirus won’t make it go away.

Last week, while most of us focused on the race for the White House, the number of Covid-19 infections in rural counties grew by 30% and set a record for the number of new cases for the seventh consecutive week. There were 144,043 new infections in rural counties last week, up from about 110,000 the week before.

Also last week, another 97 rural counties were added to the red-zone list, bringing the total to 1,599, or four out of five of all nonmetropolitan counties. (This article using nonmetropolitan counties as synonymous with rural.)

Red-zone counties have a new infection rate of 100 or more cases in one week per 100,000 residents. The Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force says that red-zone counties need to enact tougher measures to control the virus.

The current surge originated in rural areas two months ago and more recently has spread into metropolitan counties. Previously, metropolitan counties had their worst new infection rates in July. But those counties surpassed those summer peaks for the past two weeks.

Here are other facts from last week’s analysis, which covers Sunday to Saturday, November 1 to 7.

  • Rural counties had 1,873 Covid-19 related deaths last week, an increase of 20% from the previous week, and a new record. About 29% of new U.S. deaths occurred among rural residents, who constitute about 14% of the U.S. population.
  • This fall’s surge has created a new class of rural hotspots. One quarter of rural counties (479) have one-week infection rates of at least 500 new cases per 100,000 residents — five times the red-zone infection level. Fourteen percent of metropolitan counties (141) meet that criterion. As the map below shows, these hotspot counties are primarily in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and the Intermountain region of that includes Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

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