Why aren’t senior centers reopening?

Seniors rally outside a senior center in Queens in March.
Seniors rally outside a senior center in Queens in March.
James Johnson For City Council
Seniors rally outside a senior center in Queens in March.

Why aren’t senior centers reopening?

Elected officials and City Council candidates have increased calls for New York City to chart a plan for sites serving older adults to open back up.
May 7, 2021

Almost everything is set to open back up in New York starting this month: Capacity limits will be lifted for everything from restaurants and gyms to offices and Broadway shows. But with no plans outlined yet for how the city will let older adults back in to senior centers, these facilities remain largely closed.

The city took a step to reopening the centers this week, giving them the ability to bring back a program to provide on-site grab-and-go meals. “This gradual approach allows senior centers, which have not had congregate meal service in the past year, to successfully on-board staff and build operations,” said Dina Montes, a spokesperson for the city Department for the Aging. “Some centers will be ready to provide grab-and-go meals as early as next week.”

But other in-person gatherings through senior centers remain barred, even for outdoor activities, because of an executive order from Mayor Bill de Blasio – and the city has yet to provide a timeline for when that may change.

Elected officials, City Council candidates and organizations operating the centers all say it’s time for the city to create a plan for safely reopening, especially now that many otherwise vulnerable seniors have gotten COVID-19 vaccines. According to the latest city data, 63% of New Yorkers between the ages of 65 and 74 are fully vaccinated, as are 58% of people between the ages of 75 and 84, while a little under half of those 85 and up are fully vaccinated.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who chairs the Committee on Aging, said in-person gatherings were vital for seniors who have been isolated since the pandemic began. “Not every senior had internet access or knew how to use a computer to log on to the virtual program,” she said. 

Local officials and City Council candidates have increasingly rallied around the issue. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer joined older adults in Upper Manhattan earlier this week to call for reopening facilities. James Johnson is one City Council candidate who has been actively pushing the issue, including holding a rally about it in Cambria Heights in March. “For the de Blasio administration to not even have a discussion on a full scale is just irresponsible, in my personal opinion,” he said.

For Katelyn Andrews, director of public policy for ‎LiveOn NY, an advocacy group for seniors, the stalled reopening is an equity issue. 

“If you are an older adult who has the financial means to go to a restaurant, to join a fitness studio, to go to the movies, then you have that world of opportunities right now,” she said. “If you are an older adult who is low-income and relies on your senior center for those very activities, for your free or reduced cost meal, for your socialization, for your ability to work out, then you're not able to do that right now.” 

NYN Media reporter Kay Dervesh
Kay Dervishi
is a staff reporter at NYN Media.