GRASONVILLE — Senior centers on the Eastern Shore are finally beginning to reopen their doors this month after being shutting down due to COVID-19. Some local senior centers are opening sooner than others.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order authorizing the reopening of senior centers across the state for safe in-person activities on April 21, prompting locations to begin preparing plans for a new reality. The pandemic sent operations at senior centers grinding to a halt for over a year, limiting social interactions for seniors down to Zoom meetings and brief, socially distanced meal pickup and delivery.
The Caroline Senior Center in Denton returned to its full time open status on Monday under COVID-safe restrictions, including mandatory masking, social distancing and limited participation in the center’s programs and activities. Initial attendance was low, according to Jennifer Acree, manager of the Caroline Center Center.
“I think we’ll be right back to our regular numbers in the next few weeks,” she said.
Despite being closed for activities over the past year, the center’s Meals on Wheels program ran strong through the pandemic, with numbers increasing, Acree stated.
“A lot (of seniors) were calling and asking to be placed on Meals on Wheels,” Acree said, citing the early pandemic’s bare grocery store shelves and a fear of going out as reasons for the increase.
Seniors will now be able to participate in courses from Chesapeake College hosted at the center this summer. The planned schedule includes weekly crafts, nutrition and health education, fitness courses and more.
In Queen Anne’s County, the three senior centers are scheduled for a soft reopening on Thursday, May 6, with reduced hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Seniors will have to make appointments ahead of time to limit capacities per room, according to Annie Sparks, the senior center administrator at the Queen Anne’s County Area Agency on Aging.
Locations in Kent Island, Grasonville and Sudlersville provided weekly meal services throughout the pandemic to senior residents in a grab and go drive-through style, requiring reservations ahead of time. The congregate meal program is scheduled to resume in person, providing seniors with an opportunity to eat and socialize in a group setting again.
Programming will be offered in both virtual and in-person formats after reopening, with in-person activities including bingo, DVD walking classes, and access to the computer lab and fitness room, all by appointment only. Virtual classes and events will continue to take place on Zoom.
Social isolation among seniors has been a major mental health challenge during the coronavirus pandemic and its association government orders and restrictions.
Brookletts Place in Easton, the main senior center in Talbot County, is scheduled to reopen on June 1 with a new sign-in process and strict COVID guidelines. The center will operate at a very limited capacity, requiring temperature checks, waivers, all on an alternating system of attendance, said Childlene Brooks, the manager at Brookletts Place.
Despite being closed since March 13, 2020, Brookletts Place continued to offer access to the Maryland State Health Insurance Program (SHIP), Maryland Access Point (MAP), and other resources for seniors in need during the pandemic. The center was also able to offer meals off-site five days a week through Meals on Wheels, a local restaurant initiative and a pop-up food pantry.
Events, activities and classes are still being planned, Brooks said, citing “a lot of moving pieces” involved in safely reopening the facility.
Talbot County’s other senior center, Bay Hundred in St. Michaels, does not have a scheduled reopening date yet.
Despite uncertainty about the specifics of the reopening plan for Brookletts Place, the center has remained financially stable throughout the pandemic as well, thanks to state and federal government funds.
“We’re blessed to be able to provide the services we need without fundraising,” Brooks said.