New Rural Infections Drop to Lowest Number since July; Deaths Also Decline

Daily Yonder | By Tim Murphy and Tim Marema | March 16, 2021

New Covid-19 infections in rural America dropped for the ninth consecutive week last week, falling to levels not seen since early July.

The number of Covid-related deaths also fell for the ninth week in a row.

Rural counties reported 39,120 new infections last week, a 12% reduction from two weeks ago.

Rural deaths declined by 15%, falling to 1,398.

Since their peak during the second full week of January, new weekly cases have dropped by 83%. The number of weekly deaths has fallen by two-thirds during the same period.

This week’s rural Covid-19 report covers Sunday, March 7, through Saturday, March 13. The report uses data from USA Facts.

  • Thirty states reduced the number of rural counties in the red zone last week. The red zone is defined as having 100 or more new infections per 100,000 residents in a one-week period. The White House has advised localities in the red zone to take additional measures to contain the virus.
  • The number of rural red-zone counties fell to 525, a decline of 154 counties. Only a quarter of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties were in the red-zone last week, compared to 95% of rural counties at the peak of the winter surge in mid-January.
  • The number of metropolitan counties in the red zone fell by 94 last week. About 40% of metropolitan counties were in the red zone last week, the smallest number since early October.
  • Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma had large declines in the number of rural red-zone counties. Arkansas dropped 23 rural counties from the red-zone list;, Texas, 20; and Oklahoma, 19.
  • In the South, North Carolina rural red-zone counties fell by 16, Kentucky by 14, and Alabama by 13.
  • Seven states increased their numbers of rural red-zone counties last week. Maine added 10 counties, and Iowa added 12. Ohio added 14, but the growth was likely the result of an abnormally low reporting anomaly from the week before.
  • Missouri had a decline in new cases last week of 80%, probably an indication of underreporting rather than objective improvement in infection rates. We’ll watch the figure next week to see if it rebounds as Ohio’s did from two weeks ago.
  • Rural counties continued to have a slightly higher rate of new Covid-related deaths than metropolitan areas last week. Metropolitan continued to have slightly higher rates of new infections than rural counties.
  • Test positivity rates – a measurement of how well Covid-19 testing reflects the actual rate of community infections – were lower across the nation last week. All 1,976 rural counties had test positivity rates below 10%, an indication that the containment in those areas is improving. In metropolitan counties, only South Dakota had a test-positivity rate above 10%.
  • Thirty-four states had rural test positivity rates below 5%, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used for a benchmark for when local governments can prudently begin to reopen the economy.