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Rural areas in U.S. see uptick in coronavirus outbreaks as country’s cases surge

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For many states and counties in the U.S., the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic in April unfolded on their television screens, not on their doorsteps. But now, some places that appeared to have avoided the worst are seeing surges of infections, as worries shift from major cities to rural areas.

While much of the focus of concerns that the United States is entering a dangerous new phase has been on big Sunbelt states that are reporting thousands of new cases a day — like Texas and Florida — the worrying trend is also happening in places like Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.

In early June, Kansas looked to be bringing its outbreak under control, but its daily reported case numbers have more than doubled in recent weeks. On June 5, the seven-day average for daily new cases hovered at around 96; by Friday, that figure was 211.

Idaho and Oklahoma have seen similarly large percentage increases, albeit from low starting points. In Oklahoma, the seven-day average for daily new cases climbed from about 81 on June 5 to 376 on Friday, three weeks later. During the same period, Idaho’s average jumped from around 40 to 160.

Many rural counties in states including California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida have seen their confirmed cases more than double in a week, from June 19 to Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Lassen County, California, went from just nine cases to 172, and Hot Spring County, Arkansas, went from 46 cases to 415; both spikes were attributed to outbreaks at prisons. Cases in McDonald County, Missouri, more than tripled after Tyson Foods conducted facility-wide testing at a chicken plant there.

Missouri itself is seeing a worrying trend, with confirmed cases up 16 per cent over the past week. A spike in Kansas City convinced Mayor Quinton Lucas to order employees and patrons of businesses to wear masks, when 2 metres of separation isn’t possible.

“Case numbers in Kansas City continue to rise, and we are taking all steps we can to ensure public health and safety,” he said Friday.

The daily number of confirmed infections in the U.S. surged to an all-time high of 45,300 on Friday, eclipsing the high of 40,000 set the previous day, according to Johns Hopkins.

While the rise partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the scourge is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher percentages of virus tests coming back positive.

Deaths are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of around 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level because of advances in treatment and because many infections are happening in younger adults, who are more likely than older ones to survive.

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The virus is blamed for about 125,000 deaths and nearly 2.5 million confirmed infections nationwide in the U.S., by Johns Hopkins’ count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives with nearly 10 million cases.

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