Folks counting on being able to get out and about on Monday may find themselves snowed in longer than they expected.
Secondary roads may not be cleared as quickly as usual due to COVID causing staffing shortages among N.C. Department of Transportation maintenance crews.
“DOT is experiencing quite a few COVID outages within the Haywood County maintenance division,” said Travis Donaldson, the Haywood Emergency Services Director. “Getting those secondary roads may take longer than it has in the past due to COVID, including here in Haywood County.”
DOT has called in contractors to ensure that main highways in Haywood County are plowed as usual — including I-40 and U.S. 23-74. But the lack of manpower will mean secondary roads don’t get cleared as quickly.
“It really is an everywhere problem as far as COVID. They have staff who are either isolating or quarantining,” explained Allison Richmond, Haywood Emergency Services spokesperson. “Everyone that is available is on call and on staff, but that is not as many people as we would normally have, so that’s why we are saying to expect delays in secondary road clearing.”
It’s important for folks to stay home and not attempt to brave the roads until they are safe.
“Stay home when possible, stay off the secondary roads until cleared, and avoid driving while snow and ice are actively falling,” Richmond said.
County ambulance shifts are fully staffed heading in to the storm, with additional crews on standby to add ambulances as needed. However, space shortages at the hospital due to COVID patients mean ambulances can be tied up longer than normal waiting in the hospital bay to unload patients.
Even without the added burden of a snowstorm, ambulance response times have been impacted by the backlog. So the last thing they need is additional call volume from weather-related accidents on the road.
“Any time folks are on the roads they are at risk,” Richmond said.
Meanwhile, plowing crews are rooting and raring to go when it comes to town streets in Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton and Clyde.
“We’ve got seven trucks with plows installed and the brine and salt ready to go down as soon as we see something happen,” said Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites. “All our public works staff and our auto maintenance staff will be on duty to handle break downs and putting in chains and the like.”
In Canton, town crews will begin laying down salt brine on Saturday afternoon, according to Canton communications officer Brandy Proctor.
Canton has also offered to help plow roads that would normally fall under DOT jurisdiction due to the DOT manpower shortage.