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At tiny rural hospitals, weary doctors treat friends, family

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Posted at 2:39 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 15:39:28-05

MEMPHIS, Mo. (AP) — As Dr. Shane Wilson makes the rounds at the tiny, 25-bed hospital in rural northeastern Missouri, many of his movements are familiar in an age of coronavirus. Masks and gloves. Zippered plastic walls between hallways. Hand sanitizer as he enters and exits each room.

But one thing is starkly different. Born and raised in the town of just 1,800, Wilson knows most of his patients by their first names.

He visits a woman who used to be a gym teacher at his school, and later laughingly recalls a day she caught him smoking at school and made him and a friend pick up cigarette butts as punishment. Another man was in the middle of his soybean harvest when he fell ill and couldn’t finish.

In November, Wilson treated his own father, who along with his wife used to work at the same hospital. The 74-year-old elder Wilson recovered from the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic largely hit urban areas first, but the autumn surge is devastating rural America, too. The U.S. is now averaging more than 170,000 new cases each day, and it’s taking a toll from the biggest hospitals down to the little ones, like Scotland County Hospital.

The tragedy is smaller here, more intimate. Everyone knows everyone.

Memphis, Missouri, population 1,800, is the biggest town for miles and miles amid the cornfields of the northeastern corner of Missouri. Agriculture accounts for most jobs in the region. The area is so remote that the nearest stoplight, McDonald’s and Walmart are all an hour away, hospital public relations director Alisa Kigar said.

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