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Calhoun EMA offers COVID-19 updates by text message

COVID-19 training

Calhoun County EMA Director, Michael Barton speaks to media during EMA COVID-19 training at the Anniston Fire Training School. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Calhoun County residents can sign up for free text message alerts about local COVID-19 concerns, the county Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday. 

Anyone with a texting-capable phone can send the word CALCOVID to 888-777 to subscribe to the notification service, which will send updates about the coronavirus pandemic relevant to Calhoun County residents. With so much information about the virus available, the service offers a local perspective, according to EMA director Michael Barton. 

“One thing we saw in January when we were trying to learn about the emerging threat is that there’s so much information out there,” Barton said by phone Thursday morning. “When new information comes out, we’ll figure out what’s pertinent to Calhoun County residents and businesses.” 

Once subscribed, users will receive occasional text messages with what Barton said are “substantial” updates. He offered Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement from this weekend, about the national Small Business Administration accepting the state’s application for small business disaster loans, as an example of what might be pushed through the service. 

“Things that involve the state and Calhoun County and the region is what we’re focused on,” Barton said. “National stuff is important, but it’s information overload.” 

Each alert will come with a link to the EMA website, which has been turned into a COVID-19 information hub, where a more complete summary of the news blast and a link to a source for the information will be included. According to Barton, it’s important to not only keep up with information, but to make sure it’s credible before acting on it. 

“We saw early on in this that rumors were running rampant and that was causing folks to be scared, but not necessarily prepared,” he said. 

The service runs through Nixle, a communications platform the EMA had already been using to send weather and hazard alerts to the community (text CALHOUNEMA to 888-777 to receive those notifications) for several months. Non-COVID alerts will still come through the original channel, allowing users to decide if they want updates about the virus. 

Almost 500 people had already registered for COVID-19 updates by Thursday morning, Barton said, a number that began accumulating when the EMA started testing the system earlier in the week. 

Using the service to share alerts was an idea initially floated by members of the Calhoun County Infectious Disease Task Force, and one that the EMA and task force are using to tie locals into other information products of the countywide safety group. 

The first alert sent Thursday after the service was announced linked to a YouTube video featuring Jacksonville fire Chief Keith Kadle reminding viewers to wash their hands, continue social distancing and get information from credible sources. The EMA’s YouTube page had 13 other public service announcement videos, each hosted by a member of local government or safety organizations, like Sheriff Matthew Wade, Oxford fire Chief Gary Sparks and Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker

Barton said the videos might help residents who are self-isolating feel connected to the community. 

“We do still want to encourage people to socially distance,” he said. “People may not be around others as often as what they were in normal, everyday life, but this can kind of bring them together.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.