Senior centers should reopen

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We seldom quibble when it comes to organizations or individuals operating out of “an abundance of caution.” It is an approach that is often prudent, saving needless injury, harm or heartache.

But that argument is, to us, no longer valid when it comes to the continued closure of senior centers and related facilities. Here, an abundance of caution is simply an excuse not to take up the difficult, but necessary, work — and provide the potential increased supports — these agencies need to assist a population that has suffered greatly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Thursday, a dedicated group of seniors, advocates, caregivers, professionals and others lined the property of the Copper City Community Connection along Black River Boulevard, complete with placards and signage, for a rally to help garner support for reopening senior centers in New York.

“Members were asking what they could do,” said CCCC Executive Director Susan Streeter about the rally to reopen the center. “I’ve been working with the mayor on plans and trying to get someone from Albany to approve those plans for re-opening,” and there has been no response, Streeter said.

Before the center was closed due to COVID-19 last March, Copper City Community Connection had more than 450 members. Those members are in need of a social outlet — whether it be seniors meeting seniors to play cards or take a class, said center representatives. The same holds true for those seniors who attend the South Rome Senior Center on Ridge Street. These facilities offer far more than bingo games — they often provide the best meals, socialization and connections to vital services and assistance available to this vulnerable population. Programs that can mean all the difference in the world to a senior.

According to the state’s own figures, more than 73% of state residents age 65 to 74 are vaccinated. Those figures could — and likely would — be higher with additional cooperation and support from those agencies whose mission it is to support that very population. Nor does it take into account higher rates of vaccinations for those 75 and older.

The National Council on Aging and the federal Centers for Disease Control have volumes of resources, recommendations and best practices for the reopening of senior centers, listing a bevy of resources from social distancing guidelines, to hygiene protocols, staffing and operational requirements and procedures to cleaning and disinfecting. The NCOA goes a step further, listing the practices of those states, including our neighbors in Vermont and Massachusetts, which have successful begun the process of reopening its senior centers. Surely, New York can do the same.

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers, who represents South Rome Senior Center, has been a vocal advocate for the reopening of senior centers, understanding and appreciating the immense role these agencies and staff play in promoting the health and welfare of local seniors.

At the most recent Common Council meeting, Rogers reminded councilors and local residents that while the impact of COVID-19 on schools, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses has been given vast — and deserved — attention, “no one talks about the impact on local senior centers.” Likewise, Rogers has said, it is baffling that people can get their nails done, go out to eat, see a movie or workout at a gym, but not pay their taxes in person or attend a senior center. We would wholeheartedly agree with Rogers with one exception; we don’t find it baffling, we find it appalling — even when considering an abundance of caution.

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