Oberlin Community Braces for Omicron Wave


Ella Moxley

4. Oberlin City Schools recently unveiled the new Oberlin Elementary School, which opened at the start of this academic year to all elementary-aged students in the city.

Over the last few weeks, Oberlin City government, businesses, and schools have worked to adapt to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. Last week, the City of Oberlin closed all of its facilities, except for the Oberlin Police Department, to the public and limited certain in-person City services to an appointment-only basis. Local businesses and Oberlin City Schools have faced minimal disruption by the recent wave but are bracing for future challenges.  

Since early December, when the Omicron variant began spreading in the United States, the City’s administration and businesses have adjusted their COVID-19 mitigation strategies to combat rising case counts. OCS, however, has not faced higher case counts since early December.

The City could shift its services to remote-accessible formats without difficulties, which Oberlin City Manager Rob Hillard attributes to the City’s previous experience with making this shift earlier in the pandemic.

“We worked out a lot of the issues that we might have had about a year and a half ago related to City services,” Hillard said.

Hillard believes the City is taking the best possible course of action given the currently available information on COVID-19. He also stated that it is too early for him to predict future steps the City might take to mitigate COVID-19 should case counts continue to rise. However, Hillard said the City would continue to evaluate the performance of its most recent policy changes to ensure it can offer people the best support possible.

“I do think it’s important for us to continue to be flexible and to be open-minded to how we can provide essential services during this difficult time,” Hillard said.

Local businesses have also struggled with the consequences of increasing COVID-19 cases. According to Executive Director of Oberlin Business Partnership Janet Haar, increased cases have heightened businesses’ awareness of COVID-19 and prompted some businesses to ask customers to wear masks. Haar said businesses seem to be completing more curbside delivery and pickup orders than they previously had been due to some customers’ reluctance to conduct in-person business.

However, according to Haar, the surge in cases did not affect winter holiday shopping as much as she thought it might have. Haar said while most businesses did not have an exceptional holiday shopping season, most experienced a sufficient level of sales this winter . When asked whether some College students’ decisions to not return to campus for the remaining weeks of the fall semester and Winter Term might affect local businesses, Haar expressed concern.

“Our downtown businesses do depend somewhat on traffic from the College,” Haar said. “So, absolutely, it affects businesses when students are not there.”

According to Haar, increasing COVID-19 cases might also exacerbate staffing issues some businesses are currently facing. High case counts may discourage people who are wary of being in an environment where they might have a greater chance of being infected from working. Businesses may suffer further staffing issues due to employees testing positive for COVID-19 and being unable to work.

Haar said that continual surges of the virus have frustrated and confused Oberlin businesses. She said that businesses have periodically felt that they were recovering from COVID-19 as case counts have eased at certain times throughout the pandemic. However, emerging COVID-19 variants such as Delta and Omicron have led to new upticks of cases that continue to pose difficulties.

“It’s almost at every turn, when we believe we’re on the road to some kind of recovery, something happens,” Haar said.

In contrast, Oberlin City Schools has not needed to adjust its COVID-19 mitigation strategy since early December, according to OCS Marketing and Communications Consultant Melissa Linebrink. As of Jan. 6, OCS cumulatively had 36 positive student cases and seven positive staff cases during the 2021–22 school year. Linebrink noted that OCS’ fellow school communities currently face higher COVID-19 case counts than OCS.

“Oberlin City Schools has not received an overwhelming number of reported cases at this time from staff or students,” Linebrink wrote in an email to the Review.

OCS continues to operate in person with an indoor mask mandate in its schools, as it has done for the duration of the 2021–22 school year. The schools also continue to follow other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, like social distancing procedures and constructing plastic barriers that reduce students’ contact with each other at mealtimes. OCS does not currently plan on shifting to remote learning this January, according to OCS Superintendent David Hall. However, to prepare for a possible scenario in which its COVID-19 situation worsens, the district has hired additional substitutes to fill staff absences and is developing potential plans for hybrid and online instruction.

“The goal of Oberlin City Schools is to keep our students, staff, administrators, and community members safe and healthy,” Hall wrote in an email to the Review. “We will continue with our proactive safety initiatives.”

Hillard, Haar, and Hall expressed their inability to predict the future of COVID-19 and its effects on the city, its businesses, and its schools. Even so, they stated that future mitigation measures and adjustments will arise in tandem with the evolution of COVID-19 and its impacts on the residents of Oberlin.