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Staffing issues from Seattle’s omicron surge hit public transit, schools, libraries, and more — UPDATE

(Image: King County Metro)

Services in Seattle like education, public transit, and libraries are taking a hit this week as staffing issues from the omicron surge of COVID-19 are forcing closures, cutbacks, and reductions. The challenge of having enough healthy teachers, bus drivers, and librarians joins pockets of disruption also appearing in the city’s small business economies where shops, restaurants, and bars have been forced into temporary closures due to lack of staff.

Over the weekend, King County Metro announced “minor service reductions” due to driver and maintenance worker staffing issues.

“While some specific trips of a route will be canceled, nearly all of our 160 bus routes on weekdays and weekends will continue,” Metro said in its announcement. “The exceptions during this recovery period are that routes 162, 177, 304, 320, and 330 will not run on weekdays, and route 125 will not run on Saturdays. We apologize for the inconvenience and greatly appreciate your patience as our fleet is repaired and our workforce stabilizes.”

Metro said it is planning the current reductions to be in place through January 21st.

Seattle Public Schools and Beacon Hill’s Kimball Elementary School, meanwhile, announced it will be fully closed Monday with no remote instruction to start the school week. SPS said the decision was made by Superintendent Brent Jones as the district is currently tackling staffing issues and a lack of available substitutes on a campus by campus basis.

“Based on current staff and student attendance data, the normal flow of our students’ day will be drastically impacted, which is why we have made the decision to cancel school on Monday, refine our plans and return to school on Tuesday,” the Kimball message reads.

KT Raschko, an educator at Kimball, said the school had “a minimum of 9-10 unfilled positions due to the COVID crisis and substitute shortage” last week as students returned from winter break.

UPDATE: Franklin High School also canceled classes Monday.

UPDATE 1/12/2022: The district has announced Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary “will shift to remote learning” this week with the earliest return to in-person classes being next Thursday due to “high absentee and quarantine rates.”

There will also be no school next Monday, January 17th as the district observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Seattle Public Libraries, meanwhile, has been rotating closures across its branches due to staffing shortages. Sunday, temporary closures included the Capitol Hill, Broadview, Green Lake, Montlake, Wallingford, and West Seattle branches.

The challenges join staffing issues across the country and come as Seattle enters at least its fourth week of the omicron surge. Last week, newly sworn-in Mayor Bruce Harrell announced increased resources for vaccination in the city as officials also try to do more to meet huge demand for rapid tests. Higher quality masks are recommended either to replace or augment your favorite cloth coverings. Health officials recommend N95 and KN95, as well as KF94, as the most effective, followed by surgical masks, and then cloth coverings.

The CDC, meanwhile, is advising those who test positive to isolate for at least five days and then, if you can, test to determine if you need to isolate for another ten.

Small businesses, meanwhile, are also being hit hard by staffing challenges. Last week, for one example, Capitol Hill bar Life on Mars announced it would be shutting down indefinitely due to a lack of workers. Other temporary shutdowns have come and gone for others including old timers like the Roanoke Tavern. A lack of bartenders isn’t always to blame, however. Broadway bar Corvus and Co. announced it was temporarily closed over the weekend — due to plumbing problems.

Seattle and King County’s daily case totals continue at record highs with hospitalizations, and now deaths also climbing after being close to zero for months. The county’s daily total of hospitalizations has now climbed above 65 with about two people dying here every day, often after weeks of care. More than 86% — nearly 1.8 million people — are now considered fully vaccinated. Nearly 300,000 still are not. In the latest surge, health officials say the unvaccinated are 2.4 times as likely to test positive, 13 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 27 times more likely to die of COVID-19 related complications. Many “breakthrough” cases are also being reported among vaccinated people and those who were previously infected with COVID. Officials say vaccinations — and, especially, boosters — help prevent against severe illness.


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