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Local COVID-19

Northwoods counties are experiencing higher COVID death rates than urban areas of Wisconsin

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One in 2,295 people in Forest County have died from COVID-19 since July 1st.

People living in rural areas are more likely to die of COVID than in urban ones.

That’s the message of a recent analysis of COVID data by the Rural Policy Research Institute.

It found that with this most recent surge, rural Americans are dying of COVID at more than twice that rate of those living in urban areas.

WXPR reached out to Dr. Ajay Sethi to see if Wisconsin followed this same trend. He’s an associate professor of Population Health Sciences at UW-Madison.

Dr. Sethi broke down DHS data for every county in the state by number of COVID deaths per 100,000 since January 1st,2020 and again since July 1, 2021 as well as the “1 in X” that have died since those dates.

You can look at the breakdown of the data here.

“By pulling out data of seeing what’s been happening since July 1 when we started to experience our current wave due to the Delta variant. It gives maybe a little bit different picture of where the disease has been spreading the most and where deaths have been occurring the most in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Sethi.

Overall, the data holds up with the Rural Policy Research Institute analysis.

Rural Wisconsin counties largely have higher deaths rates than urban ones.

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The top ten counties all have a population of less than 35,000.

Forest, Lincoln, and Vilas Counties all make the top ten.

Forest County has the second highest rate in the state with 1 in 2,295 people dying of COVID since July 1st. The county has reported four deaths in that time.

Compare that Brown County at the bottom of the list. It has reported two deaths during that time which comes out to 1 in 134,370 deaths.

Dr. Sethi says when you look at the vaccination rates between Urban and Rural counties, these numbers aren’t surprising.

“Some of the rural counties have had some of the lower rates of vaccination unfortunately. With the Delta variant being as infectious as it is, it’s able to find individuals who are vulnerable for infection and then eventually hospitalization and death. That is the case here,” he said. “The rural counties have had much higher rates of COVID compared to urban counties which happened to have higher vaccination rates.”

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A map showing how the Department of Health Services breaks down urban versus rural counties.

DHS data shows unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die if they get COVID than vaccinated people.

There are some counties that don’t follow the trends found in the analysis.

Racine County with its population of nearly 200,000 fell at 21 on the list.

Price County has only reported one death since July 1st and fell at 48 on the list.

Nine counties, including Iron and Florence, haven’t reported any COVID deaths since July 1st.

A couple things to note on the data, the deaths are both confirmed and probable. Dr. Sethi relied on DHS data on cumulative deaths reported between July 1st and September 27th. Some of these deaths could have happened outside of that range because the data is based on the day deaths are reported, not necessarily when the occurred.

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