The coronavirus has spread everywhere in the United States.
Almost everywhere, that is.
Every county in America has reported at least one case of Covid-19 — except for some of the smallest and most far-flung places in Texas, Nevada and Hawaii. The reach of the virus into rural and urban counties alike shows how the pandemic, once concentrated in metropolitan hot spots, has now left few of even the most remote communities untouched as a third surge of infections has firmly taken hold.
Only three counties in the 50 states have never reported a Covid-19 case, according to a New York Times database — Esmeralda, Nev.; Loving, Texas; and Kalawao, Hawaii, a former leper colony on the island of Molokai. (County-level data is not available in some parts of Alaska.)
Two of those are the least populous counties in the nation: Kalawao, with 86 residents according to 2019 census estimates, and Loving with 169.
Exactly why these places haven’t had a confirmed case yet is hard to say. But they share some traits: They are sparsely populated, and fairly remote.
Some residents have come up with elaborate theories. In Esmeralda County — a rugged mining area with 873 residents in southwest Nevada between Las Vegas and Reno — a courthouse worker told The Reno Gazette Journal that it must have something to do with the local water, and particularly the arsenic in it.
Others said it was simply a matter of geography and chance.
“I guess we’ve just been lucky,” said Alan Haley, 64, a Loving County rancher who does not wear a mask in his daily travels. “It doesn’t really surprise me. Most of us, we haven’t really let it spook us too damn much.”
Loving County is in the flat West Texas desert near the New Mexico state line, about a 90-minute drive west of Odessa. The county seat, Mentone, has everything people expect in a small oil-country town — everything except a stoplight. Workers headed to and from the oil fields clog Highway 302 and give it a daytime bustle. The county executive, Skeet Lee Jones, has been known to keep a pistol in a desk drawer in his office.
In Hawaii, Kalawao County is so remote that for many years it was connected to the rest of Molokai island only by a steep mule trail. It ceased being a quarantine area once effective treatments for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) became available in the 1960s, but no new permanent residents are allowed and visits are strictly limited.
And yet even counties with zero cases know the upheaval and anxiety of the virus. Some people in and near Esmeralda and Loving counties wear masks, and have relatives, friends and classmates in other counties who have tested positive.
“It’s out there, and we’re doing everything that we can at school to keep the kids protected,” said Scotty Carman, the superintendent of the Wink-Loving Independent School District, which serves students from both Loving and neighboring Winkler County, which has reported 146 coronavirus cases so far. “We’re under a mask mandate above third grade,” Mr. Carman said, “so we’re trying to make sure kids are in compliance with that. It’s something we’re learning to deal with.”
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