ALTOONA, Ala. (WIAT) — Small towns in Alabama are feeling the effects of COVID-19, especially in terms of revenue and the ability to provide the same level of services to citizens.
In the town of Altoona, Mayor Richard Nash said he has several employees who are out with the virus or awaiting a test result.
“Clerk, human resources, A-Med acting director. We’ve got street people out,” Nash said.
Altoona lies in Blount and Etowah Counties. It is home to between 900 and 1,000 residents.
“Our resources are not a big tax base. Our city depends on the ambulance service. That’s what pays our police chief, our fire chief, our police officer and our street workers, so when it goes down it really puts us in a strain. Here, probably three months ago, we lost about 35% of our transports because nobody wanted to go to the hospital,” he said.
The town operates A-Med Emergency Medical Services. It services all of Etowah County and some of Marshall County.
After the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and patient transports, EMS workers also began to get sick or quarantine for test results.
“We got a call yesterday to transport eight to Montgomery with COVID from one of our nursing home facilities. We couldn’t do it. We had two trucks short yesterday so we got another to take 8 to Mongomery,” he said.
Nash said the town is spending a significant amount of money on overtime for employees. It has been difficult to provide the same level of service for some citizens, but Nash said he hopes neighbors realize how difficult it has been.
“We don’t have the resources. We’re paying a lot of overtime, having short trucks, people calling in,” he said.
Nash said other smaller communities in Alabama and across the country are also dealing with lost revenue and challenges because of the virus.
Altoona’s town hall is closed to the public for safety.
“If any of our people sneeze, if they feel bad at all, we have them tested. It’s the only thing I know to do to keep everybody safe,” he said.
The virus has hit home for Nash too.
“It’s tough. My grandson has got it too. We’ve got him up in a motel, because I’ve got small children that live with me,” he said.
Town emergency services have also been impacted. With fewer resources, any absence can be a big loss.
“COVID doesn’t just hit large towns. It hits small towns,” Altoona Fire Chief Tim Crow said.
Crow is now left with only three of his five crew members who answer medic calls. The other two, including Crow’s son, are in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
Both have no symptoms, but Crow said it is difficult not being able to spend time with his son.
“We always hug each other no matter where it is at, say I love you, and we can’t do that, and that is one of the hardest things,” Crow said.
As crews continue to answer calls, Crow said they are running low on personal protective equipment again. Supplies are not as easy to come by in smaller communities.
“We’re running low on masks, gloves, gowns, shoe covers, just about everything,” he said.
The city is working with other partner agencies, like EMA, to obtain additional PPE.
For now, Crow continues to do all he can to keep his family safe.
“I try to protect my family by changing clothes outside, going straight to the shower. I stay distant from my kids, I try to stay distant from each other here at the fire department,” he said.
Nash said his small city is learning to live with the virus and is thankful for the hard work of his first responders who are at risk during the pandemic.
“They are heroes. The police, fire, and EMS, they get out to when they don’t have to,” Nash said.
The town of Altoona said employees are able to return to work once cleared by doctors and CDC guidelines.