COVID Spikes in Rural MI: “No One is Getting a Pass on the Pandemic”

1,358 counties are red zones where COVID-19 infection rates are out of control. (The Daily Yonder/USA Facts)

(Mary Schuermann Kuhlman/Michigan News Connection)  — COVID-19 cases are on the rise almost everywhere, but the share of new cases in rural Michigan counties is outpacing the new caseload in metro counties.

According to an analysis by The Daily Yonder, nearly 70% of the nation’s more than 1,900 rural counties now are in the red zone, a term used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to designate areas where the spread of the virus is out of control.

Tim Marema, editor of The Daily Yonder, said 44% of Michigan’s 57 rural counties are now on that list.

“The surge in rural areas tells me there’s really no place in America immune or protected from the virus,” Marema stated. “Each community is at risk or will be at risk. It’s just a matter of time.”

Rural America had more than 82,000 new infections last week, which Marema said is a 16% increase and the fourth consecutive week of record-breaking levels of new cases.

The total number of rural residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 now tops one million.

The new infection rate in rural Michigan is 89.7 per 100,000, compared with 79.6 in metro areas.

Marema explained at the start of the pandemic, outbreaks of COVID-19 in rural areas were mostly linked to places where people are in close proximity, such as nursing homes and meat-packing plants.

He said community spread in rural counties became more widespread in the past couple of months.

“Michigan had an early surge in the Detroit area that made the metropolitan rate much higher back in March and April,” Marema reported. “Since that time, the rates have been running parallel. But since about the middle of September, the rate of new infections in rural areas has moved at a much bigger pace than urban areas.”

Marema noted the surge in rural counties is not entirely avoidable, but it is controllable. He said steps such as wearing a mask, social distancing and limiting contact with large groups can slow the spread.

“The measures that we’re able to take right now can go a long way in containing the virus, the health experts tell me,” Marema added. “But they don’t do any good if you don’t practice them. It’s not easy but it’s not complicated.”

Just 14% of the country’s population lives in a rural county, where last week more than 21% of new cases originated.

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