City Council Candidates Demand Senior Center Reopening Plan

Seniors Line Dancing
Seniors in Cambria Heights do a line dance at a ralley to open their beloved senior center. Photo contributed from the James Johnson campaign for city council.

Yankee games? You bet. But bingo games? Out of the question.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has been moving full steam ahead with reopening the city to government workers, tourists and New Yorkers alike with social distancing and health measures in place, there are no plans on the table to re-open the city’s senior centers even with proof of vaccination.

“We as seniors need to get out, especially to talk, to laugh – that means so much to our bodies. Laughter is the spirit of our life,” said senior Peggy Wiley during a rally outside Alpha Phi Alpha Senior Center in Cambria Heights, Queens last month about a plan for reopening the facility.

Now, three weeks after that rally, the city still has no plan in place to reopen senior centers, despite having vaccinated more than 64% of the city’s seniors have been vaccinated to date with more seniors, including the homebound, ongoing. 

“While there are older New Yorkers who have been vaccinated, there are many who are not. We continue to consider everyone’s safety and will continue to follow the science and the City’s health guidance on congregate gatherings and activities. It is also important to note that the Mayor’s Executive Order 100, which called for the closure of adult centers, remains in effect,” said a Department for the Aging (DFTA) spokesperson.

The continued lack of a plan for reopening senior centers is gaining traction as an issue in local city council races.

“I’ve spoken to all the executive directors of the senior center facilities in our area, and they say they are ready to be open,” said James Johnson, who is running to succeed term-limited City Council Member Daneek Miller in Southeast Queens.  “They know that our elders need to be back in these facilities.”

Johnson noted the mayor’s recent announcement that city workers will be going back to work in May, a signal that New York City will be returning to business as usual, but he is yet to announce a plan to open senior centers.

“Where is the plan to get our seniors back to their routine?” said Johnson. “We understand our elders are a vulnerable population, but one year is extremely too long not to have a plan today?”

Johnson’s comments were echoed by Council Candidate Ari Kagan, who is looking to succeed term-limited Councilman Mark Treyeger in Southern Brooklyn, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC).

“While the Governor and Mayor are reopening stadiums, bars, movie theaters, gyms, bowling alleys and tourist attractions, our seniors continue to struggle in isolation and without healthy socialization,” said Kagan.

“I strongly urge the administration to consider plans of gradual and safe reopening of our senior centers and adult daycare centers. With vaccination rates growing and the number of new COVID cases declining, we have to make sure seniors are not left behind. They need this important lifeline to come back to normalcy and social interaction,” he added.

The DFTA spokesperson countered that about 170 senior centers are offering workshops and classes virtually. There have been nearly 37,000 attendees to virtual programs, which include exercise and fitness classes, Zumba, art classes, Concerts in Motion live shows, and choral groups, the spokesperson said.

“We will continue working with the City Department of Health and senior center providers on the planning of in-person programs and look forward to fully re-opening centers once it is safe for older New Yorkers,” the spokesperson said.