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Turlock businesses grapple with COVID surge
Turlock Scavenger closure
Turlock Scavenger closed its facilities to the public this week in response to the current COVID Omicron surge (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

As COVID-19 and its Omicron variant surges throughout Stanislaus County, businesses and organizations in Turlock are pivoting back to practices not seen since 2020 in an effort to mitigate spread of the virus — with some forced to completely close their doors for the time being. 

At Ju Ju Thai Cuisine in downtown Turlock, owner Judy Vongsaly said the restaurant switched to takeout only at the beginning of the month out of precaution as Omicron spreads, and because the illness has left them severely short staffed. 

“In addition to staffing, it was also out of fear of the variant. We are a small, family-owned business, so our safety is the most important thing, especially with the staff,” Vongsaly said. “It was a really hard decision because we really enjoy having our customers dine in and we love interacting with them. Not being able to do that right now is really tough on us.”

While there is no dine-in available at Ju Ju Thai right now, the restaurant is allowing customers to use tables inside the restaurant to sit down and eat their takeout meals on a first-come, first-serve basis. Vongsaly was the only one tending to customers on Friday, she said, as some staff members have quit recently and another has been sick for three weeks now. 

Despite the tough times (again), the community’s support during the original shutdown in 2020 reminded Vongsaly that they would get through this COVID surge as well. 

“Because of everything that’s happened, it’s been really tough for small business owners trying to make sure we survive everything that’s happening right now…We’re just trying to take it day by day,” she said. “Turlock has been a huge support and they’ve really kept us afloat during the hard times.”

Ju Ju Thai isn’t the only eatery taking precaution: Chong’s Cuisine is offering limited seating and encouraging community members to order takeout or delivery, Vito’s Ristorante and Pizzeria has had to limit hours recently due to staffing issues and Starbucks locations throughout town have periodically closed for dine-in as outbreaks arise. 

Ten Pin Fun Center plans to reopen on Monday after closing Jan. 7 “for the health and safety of team members.” The bowling alley and restaurant had originally planned to reopen Jan. 14. 

It’s not just restaurants being hit by COVID, either. The City of Turlock announced over the weekend that its offices would be closed to the public through at least Jan. 21 due to a recent increase in COVID cases affecting City employees, with Interim City Manager Sarah Eddy noting the outbreak “appears to be an aggressive spread of the virus.”

“To do our best to protect the public and our employees, we’ve decided to close City offices to the public and reinstate work schedules that emphasize physical distancing,” Eddy said. 

The Jan. 11 City Council meeting was held remotely via Zoom, as will the Jan. 25 meeting. Turlock Unified School District is also making the move to virtual meetings until further notice amid mask compliance concerns and the recent surge, which had placed nearly 1,500 students in some sort of COVID protocol at the beginning of the week. 

Places of worship like the First United Methodist Church of Turlock are moving to online services; First United made the decision last week to offer online church services through the end of the month and also suspended in-person activities. 

Turlock Scavenger’s facilities, including Turlock Transfer and Turlock Recycling, are also closed to the public though garbage trucks are still able to run, with the company stating on Monday that internal COVID protocols and safety guidelines forced the closure. 

To keep up with the recent surge, TUSD has provided testing kits and testing sites for families, and free kits have been made available through the Turlock Public Library periodically. 

Stanislaus County reported 1,587 new COVID cases and two deaths on Friday, just one day after reporting a record-high 1,565 new cases on Thursday. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 95,205 county residents have contracted the virus and it has killed 1,504 people.

In Turlock, 1,100 COVID cases have been reported in the last 30 days. Since 2020, there have been 11,799 confirmed cases and 217 deaths in Turlock.