City senior centers can now reopen, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday at a news conference, giving thousands of residents access to hot meals, old friends and classes for exercise, art and more.
Centers can begin offering outdoor activities immediately, and resume indoor activities on June 14.
When indoors, seniors must maintain social distancing, de Blasio said, since not everyone who is eligible to come to the centers is vaccinated. About two-thirds of adults aged 65 and older in the city are fully vaccinated, according to city data.
“We’ll be careful, we'll be safe, we'll make sure there's smart distance to keep our senior centers safe,” de Blasio said. “But the time is now.”
Lorraine Cortez-Vazquez, the head of the city’s Department for the Aging, said that anti-discrimination laws required them to admit all seniors, regardless of vaccination status.
“We cannot distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated,” she said. “The centers will be open for all.”
City health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that the distancing was necessary as an added precaution to make centers safe for all seniors, who face high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin called on de Blasio at the news conference to increase the budget for the Department for the Aging to over $500 million, crossing the threshold of half a percent of the city’s budget. Expanding the budget would increase the number of centers and improve services, said Chin, who chair’s the council’s Committee on Aging.
“Let’s really make this the year of our seniors,” she said.
Judith Foster told NY1 on Tuesday she was looking forward to seeing her friends fill rooms at the ARC A. Philip Randolph Senior Center, and was excited for a few other activities to resume.
“Pokeno, spades, checkers, and dominoes, which is my favorite!” the Harlem resident said.
Fern Hertzberg, the executive director of ARC XVI Fort Washington, which runs this senior center and two others, called the shutdown of senior centers devastating.
“People were isolated in their homes,” she said. “They didn’t necessarily have their friends’ phone numbers — some did, some didn’t. In many cases, we had to try to connect people to one another.”
The city had faced mounting pressure to reopen senior centers. Foster protested the closure, but she told us she was able to remain active and busy even while her center was closed.
“I’m a youthful senior,” Foster said. “I’m 80 years of age, so I like to go to casinos and go shopping.”
But Foster knows some other members were not as lucky.
Hertzberg said the senior center will open on June 14 but likely won’t offer food services until July, since the space is wrapping up a renovation.
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