Over at his job as a Medicare counselor, Barry Klitsberg says, he’s been getting calls from senior citizens who may have an ulterior motive.
“People call up, ostensibly with a problem,” he said in March. “They’re so happy that they get a person picking up instead of a computer. They just want someone to talk to. I’m getting that a lot and I’m sure it’s happening all over the city. Covid has taken a year from people’s lives.”
There’s no doubt that just as they have suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus in medical terms, older people also have borne a particularly hard burden from the isolation caused by the shutdowns meant to keep people safe. A January poll found that 19 percent of people ages 50 to 80 said they were experiencing more sadness and depression during the pandemic, while the same number were having more trouble sleeping and 28 percent were feeling more worried and anxious. The survey, the National Poll of Healthy Aging, was conducted by the University of Michigan with support from the AARP.
The best answer to isolation among elderly people who do not have family or friends nearby has always been the senior center. They’ve been shuttered since the pandemic began, of course, but now is the time to reopen them, just as we’re reopening other places where people gather.
All indications are that with very few exceptions, if you have the vaccine, you don’t have a problem. And senior centers can insist on masks being worn indoors until it becomes clear they’re not needed. But the centers must be allowed to open, and not just for grab-and-go food service, though that’s a start. The service is set to begin May 10, but the city should rapidly move beyond that to as close to a full reopening as it can get.
The Queens Library will reopen select branches for limited browsing and computer use May 10. A week after that, 24-hour subway service will resume. Two days later, all indoor capacity restrictions on restaurants, theaters, gyms, hair salons and other entities will be lifted.
The vaccines are working, Covid’s being driven down and the city is reopening. A pattern is holding, the mirror image of one that took shape last year when it came to closures: Mayor de Blasio floats the idea that something will reopen and Gov. Cuomo says it’s his call, not the mayor’s, and that whatever it is actually will open earlier. We hope de Blasio mentions opening senior centers soon.