By Joe Stumpe, The Active Age
The Downtown Senior Center and three others in Wichita will reopen on a limited basis April 1, more than a year after closing because of the coronavirus pandemic. Numerous congregate meal sites that provide lunch to seniors have also reopened for in-person dining or announced plans to do so.
“Everybody is kind of ready to start dipping their toes in the water and getting back out there,” said Annette Graham, executive director of Central Plans Area Agency on Aging, which works with seniors in Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties.
Senior Services, Inc., which operates the Downtown Senior Center and three others in Wichita, announced that they would re-open for two days a week starting on April 1. The centers will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Laurel Alkire, executive director of Senior Services, said the limited hours are designed to permit sanitizing and to “let our center directors get into a rhythm, seeing how things go.” She hopes the centers can resume their normal weekday schedule “within a couple of months.”
For now, the centers will require masks — except during pickleball and exercise classes — and social distancing, and participation in many activities will be limited. Participants must call to reserve slots for pickleball, art classes and other programming. Cards, dominos and pool will be available “but spaced out, with constant sanitizing,” Alkire said. Communal snacks and drinks are out for now. Participants will have their temperatures checked upon entering the centers.
Asked if she expects a rush of returning members, Alkire said, “Oh yeah, our (center) directors have kept in touch with them.” On the other hand, she said, “I’m sure we’ll have some that just aren’t ready to come back.”
Senior Services plans to keep offering virtual events, Alkire said.
Graham said her staff has been working with senior centers and congregate meal sites in Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties on plans to reopen, a development made possible because of widespread vaccinations and a drop in COVID-19 cases. Some senior centers have been open a limited basis, but Graham said attendance “has been pretty low.”
“It will be interesting to gauge where people are, their willingness to go back in that congregate setting,” she said.
Senior centers currently open with limited programming include those in Bentley, Bel Aire, Clearwater, Derby, Haysville Senior Center, Park City and Sedgwick.
The Cheney Senior Center was planning to reopen this week. In Wichita, the four centers run by Senior Services, Inc. — Downtown, Linwood, Northeast and Orchard Park — are set to reopen with limited hours and services April 1. The Mulvane Senior Center also plans to reopen April 5.
Centers that don’t have reopening dates set yet include La Familia in north Wichita, Mount Hope, Oaklawn and Valley Center.
Congregate meal sites will continue to offer grab-and-go meals, as they have been doing during the pandemic, since “not everybody’s going to feel comfortable coming back in person to dine together,” Graham said.
The following congregate meal sites reopened on March 22: Cheney, Clearwater, Derby, Haysville, Peachtree, Huston Center, LaFamilia, Maple Gardens, Park City, Sheridan, all in Sedgwick County; and Sedgwick, in Harvey County.
These meal sites were scheduled to reopen April 5: Edgemoor, Linwood, Mulvane, Northeast, all in Wichita.
As of March 23, no reopening date had been set for: Evergreen, in Wichita; Hesston, Newton, Halstead, in Harvey County; and Susan B Allen, in Butler County.