CARROLLTON, Ala. — As the coronavirus spread across the United States, workers at the lone hospital in one Alabama county turned off beeping monitors for good and padlocked the doors, making it one of the latest in a string of nearly 200 rural hospitals to close nationwide. Now Joe Cunningham is more worried than ever about getting care for his wife, Polly, a dialysis patient whose health is fragile. The nearest hospital is about 30 miles away, he said, and that’s too far since COVID-19 already has been confirmed in sparsely populated Pickens County, on the Mississippi state line. Cunningham is trusting God, but he’s also worried the virus will worsen in his community, endangering his wife without a hospital nearby. “It can still find its way here,” said Cunningham, 73. The pandemic erupted at an awful time for communities trying to fill health care gaps following the closure of 170 rural hospitals across the nation in the last 15 years. 2019 was the worst year yet, with 19 closures, and eight more have shut down since Jan. 1, according to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina. While the nation’s coronavirus hot spots


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