December 5, 2021

County senior centers to remain closed

seniors feeding duck illustration

Cortland County senior centers will remain closed for the foreseeable future until more is known about the coronavirus, county officials announced Thursday in a news release.

“While Cortland County has experienced a relatively low number of confirmed COVID cases, there is no vaccine yet for the coronavirus and it is impossible to achieve a zero risk of infection,” states the release.

The centers have been closed to the 1,275 participants, many of which are 70 or older, since March 16, according to the release.

Seniors are considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be at higher risk of having a severe illness related to catching the virus the virus and may even be hospitalized, put on a ventilator to help them breath or die.

The closure will affect seven employees, said Personnel Director Annette Barber. Exactly what will happen with those people and positions has yet to be determined.

Although the centers are closed, the county said it “is not suspending our commitment to providing nutritionally balanced meals and social opportunities for older adults.”

The agency delivers 200 meals on average a week and those clients get checked on five days a week.

“Our drivers have to lay eyes on them,” Haskins said.

She also said anyone receiving in-home services and support — about 65 people— are also regularly checked on. She said that the agency is still open and it will respond to calls from seniors that way as well.

Of the 1,275 center participants, 130 were from other counties. Those people have received calls from the Area Agency on Aging, which oversee the centers.

“The first month we did not contact them because it was just a lot of work,” said agency Director Elizabeth Haskins. “The second month we did contact all of them with the intent that if they had any needs, we would contact the county in which they reside.”

The break down of participants from other counties is: Tompkins 27; Chenango 26; Cayuga 21; Broome 17.

“To a lesser extent additional counties include: Onondaga, Tioga, and Madison,” Haskins said in an email after the meeting.

Other seniors in the community are also being checked up on, she said.

The agency is also holding a weekly social hour via the internet or phone, as well as using social media to engage with people through various activities like virtual travel and sightseeing, according to the release.

A pen friend program, setting up volunteers to exchange letters with seniors, has 18 partnerships, Haskins said. The county will also be mailing out information about services available to those age 55 and older.

A special sub-committee has been created by Health and Human Service Chair Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) to “review senior centers and explore options moving forward,” states the release.

That subcommittee is composed of three legislators and is not open to the public. Bischoff said the committee will submit a report to the Health and Human Services Committee outlining options for the centers.

Bischoff said she is hoping for the report by the end of August or beginning of September.

“This is a floating thing,” she said. “We’ll probably have several discussions from that September meeting.”