COVID Closures Hitting West St. Paul

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The omicron variant of COVID-19 is prompting closures and staff shortages at local businesses and schools.

Business Closures and Reduced Hours

Many businesses already had a hard time finding staff, but omicron has made it worse. Restaurants have seen the most noticeable impact, with several restaurants closing or facing reduced hours:

  • Thai Pepper shifted staff to focus on their new Bloomington location, temporarily closing in West St. Paul. Then staff shortages continued and West St. Paul has remained closed. They hope to reopen by late January with reduced hours, likely only in the evenings (Jan. 27, 2022 Update: Thai Pepper has reopened with new hours).
  • Burger Time starting closing on Sundays in the fall due to staff shortages. They reopened on Sundays in early January, only to completely close in mid-January. They reopened on Wednesday and returned to normal hours, including Sundays.
  • El Cubano closed the past week due to COVID exposures, but reopened today with reduced hours through March. With their new winter hours they’ll be closed Monday through Wednesday.
  • Jimmy John’s reopened with their new drive thru back in December, but they’ve been short staffed as well. They’re now closing at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and are closed on Sundays. (Feb. 1, 2022 Update: They appear to be returning to normal hours. Call ahead to be sure.)

The closures often come with little warning, so call ahead or be prepared to be flexible. It’s also a good reminder to be polite and patient at restaurants that are open.

Shortages and closures at other businesses haven’t been as noticeable, though Republic Services did have to delay garbage service last week, completely skipping some routes for a week.

Jimmy John's temporarily closing early

Schools Facing Challenges

While other school districts have returned to distance learning, including Minneapolis this week, ISD 197 continues to stay open and in person. But two emails to families this week show that omicron is taking a toll.

On Tuesday an email warned families that school bus routes may need to be canceled due to a shortage of bus drivers. Communication about canceled morning routes would go out by 6 a.m. and afternoon routes by noon.

A second email on Wednesday gave a broader update and noted the district hasn’t had to cancel any bus routes yet, and did say if canceled routes ever became “more than a rare instance” they would switch to distance learning.

That broader omicron update on Wednesday gave specific numbers about the COVID surge:

  • COVID cases: The COVID-19 positivity rate among staff and students is at 5% districtwide, based on self reporting. The district suggested 10% would be a threshold to consider switching to distance learning.
  • Staff: Among teachers and para-professionals, 60-70 staff have been out each day, though the email notes that’s dropped to 50 in the last few days. That’s out of approximately 400 teachers and 125 paras. One-third of those absences are filled with subs, one-third by reassigning teachers and teachers losing their prep time to cover classes, and one-third are non-classroom positions that aren’t being filled. Fifteen is a more typical number of staff to have out. Minneapolis switched to distance learning with 400 teachers out, double their winter norm.
  • Students: Since returning from winter break, 15% to 20% of students have been absent each day. Last Friday saw the highest absentee rate at 22%, but it went back down to 20% Monday and Tuesday of this week. A more typical absentee rate is 5%.

According to ISD 197’s COVID-19 dashboard, confirmed COVID cases spiked the first week in January with as many cases that one week as the district saw through the entire fall.

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in ISD 197

Reporting from the Sahan Journal gives wider context and input from Minnesota teachers of color.

How to Stay Healthy

The latest health guidelines have caused confusion, such as the CDC’s recent recommendation to reduce the quarantine period from 10 days to five. There have been delays with testing and trouble finding at-home test kits (if you have a student in ISD 197, you can request at-home tests while supplies last).

But despite the confusion, the best advice continues to be to get vaccinated and boosted. While it doesn’t guarantee immunity, it has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness. Wearing a mask is also encouraged, especially an N95 or other high-filtration mask. But the challenge is often finding them and then ensuring a tight fit. A good next step is a surgical mask and/or doubling up with a cloth and/or surgical mask.

Jan. 19, 2022 Update: School COVID Numbers Continue to Climb

ISD 197 released COVID-19 data for the second week in January, and cases among students continue to climb. The good news is they didn’t climb quite as steeply and cases among teachers are down:

Jan. 25, 2022 Update: School COVID Numbers Level Off

ISD 197 released COVID-19 data for the third week in January, showing cases starting to level off. However, student cases last week still eclipsed total student cases for the entire fall. Last week’s data includes one less day in class thanks to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This week students have Monday and Tuesday off for the end of the semester, which may also help slow the spread.

Feb. 1, 2022 Update: COVID-19 Numbers Drop

ISD 197 released their COVID-19 case numbers for the last week of January, and the numbers have significantly dropped. There was no school on January 24 and 25, which likely helped, but even accounting for a three-day week, it’s still a precipitous drop in cases.

Feb. 10, 2022 Update: COVID Cases Level Off

ISD 197 released the COVID-19 case numbers for last week, and cases have leveled off. They’ve come down significantly from the omicron spike, but they’re still twice what they were in the fall.

Feb. 16, 2022 Update: COVID-19 Numbers Drop to Fall Levels

ISD 197 released COVID-19 case numbers for last week, and they’ve dropped back to pre-omicron levels we were seeing in the fall:

February 25, 2022 Update: Latest Numbers

Here’s the latest COVID-19 case data for ISD 197:

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