Loving County, Texas, was the last 'COVID-free' place in the continental U.S. Now it isn't.

Mentone, Texas
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

COVID-19 is now officially everywhere in the U.S. — or at least the lower 48 states. Texas authorities confirmed three coronavirus infections in tiny Loving County on Tuesday afternoon, meaning every one of the state's 254 counties has reported at least one COVID-19 case. More notably, Loving County was also, Texas Monthly notes, "the last county in the United States to have zero reported cases of COVID-19."

Until Tuesday, The New York Times reports, "like a lone house standing after a tornado has leveled a town, Loving County, in the shadeless dun plains of oil-rich West Texas, had not recorded a single positive case of the coronavirus. It is something that people in the county were proud of. They talked about it. They lived by it."

It wasn't quite true — at least one oil worker got sick at a "man camp" in the county's only town, Mentone, in August, "but since he was not a permanent resident, and was quickly shuttled home, Loving County had not reported the case at the time," the Times notes. Also, Texas Monthly reports, "at least two folks contracted the coronavirus elsewhere and came back here to quarantine." But the county managed to keep its COVID-free status on technicalities.

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Loving — "with 169 souls calling this parched West Texas frontier home," is "the least populated county in the lower 48," Texas Monthly reports. "The census counts 10 times the number of workers in the county as residents," thanks to the oil boom, the Times adds, and Loving County completes the sweep of rural areas that "escaped the brunt of the pandemic early on." Last week, Nevada's Esmerelda County reported its first case. Now the last COVID-free county in America is probably Kalawao in Hawaii, which has even fewer people than Loving County. Read more about this outpost of Western Americana, and its omnipresent Jones family, at Texas Monthly and The New York Times.

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