By Oct. 17, new COVID-19 infections in rural areas had reached record highs, four weeks in a row.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – As of two weeks ago, seven rural counties in Pennsylvania were in the “red zone” for new COVID-19 infections as the pandemic spread rapidly in non-metropolitan areas nationwide.
An analysis in The Daily Yonder, which covers news in rural America, says nearly 70% of rural counties across the country now have rates of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 residents, outpacing urban counties.
According to Tim Marema, editor of the publication, after an early surge of COVID infections in more densely populated areas, last week the rate in rural Pennsylvania counties was 6.5% higher than in metropolitan areas.
“Rural areas began to acquire new infections at a much higher rate beginning in late September,” said Marema, “and surpassed the metropolitan rate about the second week of October.”
He said though only 14% of Americans live in non-metropolitan areas, last week more than 21% of new COVID cases originated in rural counties.
Marema pointed out that, earlier in the pandemic, new infections were closely related to specific locations. But since summer, they’re no longer linked as closely to institutions and are spreading generally in the population.
“That means people can’t say, ‘I’m not around that nursing home or that meat packing plant, so I’m not at risk,'” said Marema. “No place is getting a pass on the pandemic now. ”
He added that urban areas also broke a record last week, with infection rates in 54% of the nation’s metropolitan counties that made them “red zones” for new infections.
Marema stressed that the spread of the novel coronavirus can still be controlled by following recommended precautions – like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
“The measures that we’re able to take right now can go a long way in containing the virus,” said Marema. “But they don’t do any good if you don’t practice them. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated. ”
Last week, there were more than 82,000 new COVID cases in rural areas nationwide, raising the total positive tests for rural residents past one million since the pandemic began.