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Rural Alabama County Fights Virus Outbreak With Just One Doctor

In Lowndes County, Alabama, the virus runs wild as infections soar in the South

George Thomas, Lowndes County's sole doctor, in Hayneville, Alabama. Lowndes County’s infection rate rivals the hottest zip code in New York City at its pandemic peak.

George Thomas, Lowndes County's sole doctor, in Hayneville, Alabama. Lowndes County’s infection rate rivals the hottest zip code in New York City at its pandemic peak.

Photographer: Wes Frazer/Bloomberg

Four years ago, a community group set two economic development goals for Lowndes County, Alabama: a new truck stop and a hospital.

The truck stop now sits off I-65 south of Montgomery. But Lowndes still pays $19,000 a month for a single ambulance to take the sick to emergency rooms a half hour or more away. A hospital remains an unreachable dream in a place with Alabama’s highest concentration of Covid-19 — and one of the worst infection rates in the U.S.

Lowndes County exemplifies the kind of region where the coronavirus continues to hunt: It’s rural, among the nation’s poorest, majority Black, rife with pre-existing illnesses and starved of health-care resources. It's the kind of place where a resurgence of the pandemic is taking root, as new infections rise in at least 21 states. 

George Thomas, the county's sole doctor, said Lowndes became a coronavirus hot spot almost overnight. He suspects it was brought from Montgomery, where many of his patients work. “There are no jobs here, or very few,” he said during a break at his federally subsidized clinic in Hayneville that sits across a state highway from the Dollar General.

“It seemed like we sort of trailed behind for a long time,'' Thomas said.  "But our numbers are really going up."