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Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University, National Center of Health Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

This wave of coronavirus infections is hitting rural areas especially hard. While big cities have more total cases, rural areas are seeing more cases per capita — and they're at greater risk of running out of hospital capacity as cases pile up.

Why it matters: What started as an urban problem in the spring is now everyone's problem.

Between the lines: Rural communities in the U.S. have more vulnerable health care systems and more vulnerable populations. Many are on the verge of becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus patients as caseloads continue to grow.

  • Coronavirus patients are occupying the highest portions of hospital beds in Midwestern and Mountain West states. And hospitalizations tend to trail cases by a few weeks, meaning the burden on hospitals is only likely to get worse.
  • As the outbreak also continues to grow in big cities, rural systems may end up with nowhere to send patients after they run out of room to treat them.
  • Health care workers are less likely to be able to temporarily relocate to hotspots, as they'll be needed in their own communities.

Zoom in: Childress County, Texas, has the highest per capita case rate in the country, with 91 cases per day in a county of just over 7,200 people — or 1,265.3 cases per 100,000 people.

The bottom line: "We have legitimate reason to be very, very concerned about our health system at a national level," Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR.

Go deeper

Nov 29, 2020 - Health

Restaurants fight COVID restrictions

Diners in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, on Nov. 11. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Restaurants in several states — including Kentucky, Illinois and California — are staying open and defying restrictions, as states try to manage skyrocketing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations with more safety measures.

The big picture: Restaurant industry trade groups have been desperately lobbying for federal aid from a coronavirus stimulus package that has yet to see any traction in Congress.

Nov 29, 2020 - Sports

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with all Denver Broncos quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground, and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Nov 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Colorado governor and partner test positive for coronavirus

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) tweeted Saturday night that he and his partner, Marlon Reis, tested positive for COVID-19.

The big picture: He said they're both "asymptomatic, feeling well, and will continue to isolate at home." On Nov. 9, Polis extended a 30-day mask mandate to combat a rise in cases. The state has confirmed 225,283 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. Since September, the governors of Wyoming, Nevada, Virginia and Missouri have also tested positive for the virus.