May 22, 2020

The 2016 election may help map the next coronavirus hotspots.

While COVID-19 is finally beginning to wane in some of the U.S. cities it hit hardest and earliest, coronavirus spread is still far from its peak in most small cities and rural areas across the country. And over the past four weeks, it's been more likely that counties will show a high prevalence of coronavirus next if they voted for President Trump in 2016, an analysis by the Brookings Institution reveals.

A high prevalence of coronavirus means a county saw coronavirus case rates of 100 or more per 100,000 people. Hundreds of counties have gained high-prevalence status over the past few weeks, and 176 new counties joined that list from May 10 to May 17 alone. Those 176 counties voted for Trump by a 12 percent margin in 2016 — Trump outright won 151 of them — and are also less urban and less racially diverse than areas where coronavirus spread in March and April, Brookings notes.

COVID-19 obviously doesn't discriminate based on politics, so there is no definitive reason why these counties are seeing coronavirus spikes now. It's likely just because rural counties are more spread out than urban areas and have seen slower coronavirus spread, and also coincidentally went for Trump in 2016. But Trump has also been eager to reopen businesses, especially in less populous areas that didn't see as many coronavirus cases. And if his supporters were more likely to follow his lead and get back to normal, that could be aiding the spread as well. Find the whole study at the Brookings Institution. Kathryn Krawczyk

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