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A small town battle in the age of COVID-19
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By Ernest Gurulé

The devastation of human life and anxiety caused by the scourge of Covid-19, the Coronavirus, in America’s biggest cities grows logarithmically. Death totals in large city hospitals are spinning like an out-of-control slot machine. And while health care professionals are pushed to near exhaustion but continue fighting back as hard as they can just trying to keep pace, a whole other fight for survival is being waged, this one, economic survival. It’s a two-front war and casualties will be high in urban and rural America.

“Our businesses,” said Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks, “they’re scared. There’s no other way to put it.” Brooks was at her desk on Saturday morning as she explained her town’s new reality. “We thought we had turned the corner,” she said. The economy that had sailed along almost predictably for a decade, buoying towns big and small, suddenly had come to a stop.

In rapid succession, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, then Colorado Governor Jared Polis, declared the virus too dangerous to operate normally. They ordered bars and restaurants closed; ordered businesses to trim staffs of all but essential employees. The gears of the state’s economy ground to a halt. And as Denver goes, so goes rural Colorado, including Alamosa, a small-town economic hub in southern Colorado.

The suddenness of the edict, while not surprising, has rained down on major cities on each of the coasts, and sent places like Alamosa into immediate crisis control. Buildings and other projects that were on the drawing board were suddenly moved to the back burner. “We were on the cusp of some exciting things for this community,” said Brooks. But that will have to wait. “Sales tax is our number one income,” she said. With businesses suddenly closed---and who knows for how long---and people staying at home not spending money, that faucet has slowed to a trickle.

While a number of Alamosa businesses have had to furlough or release workers, the city, so far, has not. “We’re not laying off any employees,” said Brooks. Nor has the city made any “dramatic reduction in services.” What it has done is assembled a business response team to figure out how to move forward.

“We’re evaluating our budget,” said Brooks. “If we have vacancies, we may hold them open.” There will also be a freeze put on other projects while identifying capitol projects “that we can delay.”

As of the weekend, Alamosa had only one confirmed case of C-19 but, said Brooks, “we also have several outstanding tests that need to come back.” But just as it is in big city hospitals, Alamosa is struggling with a lack of PPE, personal protection equipment, including N95 masks. Brooks acknowledges the seriousness of this shortfall. “It does frustrate me a little bit.” The town’s emergency management team will decide the next steps.

Brooks is concerned that a lack of protective gear for the city’s first responders could create a new layer of problems. One problem has already occurred. A decision to release certain inmates to contain the virus from spreading in the jail, has created an “uptick in crime,” said Brooks. Personal property crime has jumped by 18 percent since the town’s early release plan went into effect.

But as the town navigates its way through this public health crisis, its community spirit has radiated, said Brooks. One Alamosa business, Rustic Log Furniture, has repurposed and is making masks for hospital workers and first responders. “We also have a lot of volunteers in the community” pitching in and making masks. “It’s frustrating that we’re having to do this,” she said. But, “It’s a good feeling,” that so many are stepping forward to lend a hand.





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