Angela Caputo just received her second vaccination to protect her from COVID-19. For the 84-year-old Staten Island resident, it’s a shot of freedom.
Caputo said, until last year, she never spent a holiday alone. But her family has been forced to keep their distance from her to keep her safe.
“It’s very lonely when you’re used to being with family. But we have to make the best of it, it could be worse,” said Caputo, a Manor Heights resident.
Caputo’s vaccine appointment marked the second time she’s visited the senior center at the JCC of Staten Island since it closed last March.
It’s a place she said became a second home after her husband died. Caputo has been participating in the JCC's virtual programming, but it's not the same.
“It’s such a lonely feeling. Even though you see them on Zoom, it’s still not the same as being with someone and hugging them. It’s not the same. But we do our best,” said Caputo.
While nearly 60% of people in the city ages 65 to 74 years old have received at least one vaccine dose, the city has no plans to reopen its senior centers.
Tina Sadarangani, an assistant professor at NYU's Rory Meyers College of Nursing, studies senior centers and adult day care facilities. She says the continued closures pose a risk to seniors.
"I think what was meant to be a well intentioned effort to protect a very vulnerable population has resulted by closing all of these programs in taking away a lifeline for many of them. Something that can contribute to worse physical and mental health, more anxiety, food insecurity,” said Sadarangani.
Margaret Chin, who chairs the City Council’s Aging Committee, wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio back in September calling for a timeline to reopen the centers.
“All they really have to do is really provide the resources and the guidelines. The providers are ready. They want to open up and welcome the seniors back,” said Chin.
But seven months after Chin sent her letter, the city's Department of Aging still cannot provide any guidance.
"We will continue working with the Department of Health and senior center providers on the planning of in-person programs and look forward to fully reopening centers once it is safe for older New Yorkers,” said Dina Montes, a director of press and public information for the Department for the Aging.
Until then, older New Yorkers like Angela Caputo will have to wait to rejoin their friends and activities at senior centers again.