Thursday, October 15, 2020

Shortage of rural case numbers may hide coronavirus spike

The coronavirus pandemic has been surging in rural areas in recent weeks, but the relatively low number of cases can make the trend look less concerning than it is. But the percentage of recent rural cases has often been just as bad as those hitting big cities in the Sun Belt this summer, Manny Fernandez and Mitch Smith report for The New York Times. The Daily Yonder reported on Wednesday that new coronavirus infections in rural counties jumped a record 16% last week.

"North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, for example, have announced the country’s highest number of cases on a per capita basis. Already, the North Dakota and South Dakota numbers exceed the per capita figures seen at the peak of summer surges in the Sun Belt," Fernandez and Smith report. "Other states with large rural areas — including Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Alaska and Oklahoma — have recently recorded more cases in a seven-day stretch than in any other week of the pandemic."

In South Dakota, Republican Governor Kristi Noem blamed the recent surge on an increase in testing, even though the state saw a new high in the number of people hospitalized for covid-19, The Associated Press reports. Only one county in the state (Edwards County) isn't a red zone, the Yonder notes, and that's mainly because the population is so small that a small variation in cases can swing the needle a lot. Red-zone counties are defined by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as those with a new-infection rate of at least 100 per 100,000 people in one week.

The sheer lack numbers might make people less likely to pay attention, Fernandez and Smith write: "Wessington Springs, S.D., or Shelby, Mont., are unlikely to produce the same alarming imagery amid a pandemic as New York City or Houston, where mobile morgues and packed E.R. hallways became icons of suffering."

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