As they serve some of the most vulnerable members of the community during COVID-19, senior centers in Whitman and Hanson are trying to also address the sense of isolation some of their clients are beginning to feel as the pandemic enters its sixth month.
Health experts’ predictions of a second wave of the virus is also raising concern.
Massachusetts Councils on Aging have been stressing all spring and summer that, while the senior center doors have been closed, service have still been provided.
Only activities at which clients congregate have been curtailed.
“A lot of the seniors I have spoken with are starting to feel that sense of isolation, and these include many people who have been really active and are continuing to go to the supermarket and do the basic things that they need,” said Hanson Multi-Service Center Director Mary Collins. “The socialization is a huge part of what we do during our activities and we have to figure out a safe way to socialize.”
Moving the programs they do offer outdoors has been seen as a solution for the Hanson center. All the tables and chairs are being removed from the center and placed into storage. Computer terminals, where some clients used to while away free time playing solitaire, have been removed.
But activities like chair yoga and the women’s group are returning in late September with the hope that the chorus can start up again in October, Collins said.
In order to attend these events, note that there is a cap on attendance. Call 781-293-2683 in Hanson and 781-447-7619 in Whitman to make reservations. Masks must be worn at all times and social distancing will be maintained at all times. A COVID-19 screening along with temperature check will be performed prior to each senior center program attended. Hanson attendees are required to sign a waiver of liability prior to attend programs. Do not arrive any sooner than 10 minutes prior to the start of the activity and leave the grounds when the activity is complete.
“The safer, the better, and outside is the place to do that,” Collins said. “We’re starting slow. It’s one step at a time.”
Whitman Selectmen have voted to delay any return to in-person programs until at least the first of the year, said new Council on Aging Director Mary Holland.
“We can’t even have outdoor events,” Holland said, noting some communities, such as Hanson are allowing that. “I totally understand, the elderly are among the most vulnerable populations.”
But she had hoped to be able to place a tent in the parking lot where regular programs such as the knitting group, might meet while observing social distancing requirements.
The Whitman Senior Center is allowing hairdressing and podiatry appointments, with seniors required to wait outside until their appointment time, when they must go directly to the room where the service is being provided, and leave the building as soon as they are done.
“You have to do what’s best for your community,” Collins said. “We have to follow the letter of the law. It has to be small groups with a lot of space.”
She said that, before the decision is made to return to events inside Hanson’s building, the Board of Health will have to inspect and approve it.
“I want to make sure everything is in place and we have enough space before we go back to allowing anybody to go in there,” Collins said.
Facilities are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between patrons.
Transportation to the Family Dollar store, local banks and pharmacies is still provided, but ridership on the 14-seat senior van is limited to four people at a time. As with the hair and podiatry appointments, the van is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between trips.
Hanson is not offering van transportation at this point.
“We are all facing challenges during this pandemic,” Holland wrote in the September Seen Your News? Newsletter from the Council on Aging, which is produced remotely by senior volunteers. “It’s OK to have your feelings, but you know you are not alone. We are here for you! Just phone call away if you need assistance or a friendly voice.”
For more information on current programs and pandemic limitations call the Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center at 781-293-2683 or the Whitman Council on Aging at 781-447-7619.