The mayor is heeding the calls of many older New Yorkers and elected officials by setting forth plans Tuesday to reopen senior centers after being under strict COVID-19 restrictions since last March.
Senior centers are now permitted to hold outdoor events and will be able to resume indoor programming on June 14, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at his daily press conference.
“We know our seniors have deeply missed the opportunity to be together. And we also know seniors bore the brunt of the COVID crisis, they were the most vulnerable,” de Blasio said of the particularly difficult year seniors endured during the pandemic. “It’s time now to move forward. So, I’ve heard from so many seniors, they’re ready to go back to senior centers, and I’m happy to announce our senior centers are coming back in New York City.”
The mayor had been hesitant in giving senior centers the green light to welcome back its members – despite vaccination rates among this population to be the highest in the city – even as restaurants, bars and gyms were lifting restrictions on capacity and mask wearing in the last several weeks. In response to what was viewed as an illogical and unfair delay in reopening, seniors rallied to resume in-person programming.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was leading the charge to reopen centers, and celebrated the mayor’s announcement Tuesday.
“Ever since the city made steps to re-open weeks ago, our senior centers have operated under a different set of restrictions than other places. While New Yorkers can now dine indoors, attend group fitness classes, and go to the movies, older New Yorkers have been unable to access their beloved senior centers and trusted providers,” Brewer said in a statement. “[Reopening] is a huge step towards a true recovery for all New Yorkers and ensures we do not leave an isolated and often forgotten group behind.”
High Vaccination Rate
Ultimately, it is the high vaccination rate among seniors that is making reopening these centers possible, the mayor said. About 72 percent of the city’s seniors have gotten at least one dose and about two thirds of seniors being fully vaccinated, according to Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dave Choksi.
The city will still be providing guidance on health and safety protocols in welcoming back seniors to indoor programming, including social distancing measure, Lorraine Cortes-Vasquez, who serves as commissioner of the Department for the Aging, said at the press conference Tuesday. Centers cannot, however, make vaccination a requirement among its returning guests, Cortes-Vazquez said, as that would be seen as discrimination under the Older Americans Act.
The mayor also stressed that the reopening process would be managed carefully.
“What I can tell you is, we’ll be careful. We’ll be safe,” said de Blasio. “We’re going to make sure there’s smart distancing and all the right precautions to keep our senior centers safe – but the time is now.”