Pressure Grows on Mayor for Senior Centers Reopening Plan

The city's senior centers like this one in Rego Park remains shuttered due to the pandemic and the city has yet to release a reopening plan. Photo from Google Maps.

City Council candidate Linda Lee today joined a growing chorus of council candidates citywide asking the de Blasio Administration to come up with a plan to officially open senior centers,

Lee, who is running in Queens Council District 23, is the President and CEO of Korean Community Services, a community-based non-profit that operates several senior centers in the city.

“New York’s reopening is going to be one of the great urban comeback stories,” said Lee. “But while people are heading to ball games, going out to their favorite bars and restaurants, or even seeing a movie in theaters, hundreds of thousands of our seniors remain isolated at home and unable to socialize in person. Senior centers are essential, and our seniors cannot be an afterthought. Seniors deserve to know when they will be able to resume their normal routines once safe to do so.”

Lee made her demands known for a reopening plan in a letter, to de Blasio asking for the Department for the Aging (DFTA), to officially reopen senior centers.

“With nearly two-thirds of the city’s seniors vaccinated, and more receiving their shots everyday, the Department for the Aging should begin publicly planning to reopen center. This reopening can, and should, provide for reduced occupancy, proof of vaccination, or other safety measures as directed by the CDC and other health experts,” Lee wrote.

There were about 1.1 million seniors in New York City just before the COVID pandemic hit, 12% of whom identified as Asian or Pacific Islander. 

Lee’s district includes Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and  Queens Village. According to community board data that overlaps with the city council district map, about 45% of the residents are Asian and at least 20% are ages 65 and older. Both equally vulnerable populations because of the onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis and the rash of violent hate crimes against Asian and Asian Americans in the city.

De Blasio and DFTA had promised a $50 million investment for seniors in the near future that adds 25 senior centers in various neighborhoods to existing centers, services, and programming, but did not commit to an official date of when they would reopen for seniors to enjoy.

Lee wrote that she understood the closure of senior centers to “bend the curve” and protect older adults, but as sport, concert, and other entertainment venues begin to reopen with reduced capacity, senior centers need to as well.

“On behalf of the thousands of seniors across our city who relied on our senior centers day in and day out before the pandemic began, I am writing to urge your Administration to publicly present plans for a phased reopening of senior and recreation centers in New York City as part of the citywide reopening process,” wrote Lee.

Lee’s demands come a little more than a week after PoliticsNY reported two other city council candidates – one in Queens and one in Brooklyn – made similar demands for a plan to reopen senior centers. 

At this morning’s appearance on MSNBC, de Blasio said the target date for the general city reopening was July 1.

“We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength,” he said on the show. “What we’re seeing is people have gotten vaccinated in extraordinary numbers, 6.3 million vaccinations in New York City to date. We’re doing a lot to reach people at the grassroots level.”

De Blasio said that there was still a lot to do between now and this summer, like continuing the aggressive crackdown on COVID with vaccinations and health guidelines, but was beyond hopeful. 

“The decision on when to reopen will be made by our public health experts, based on science and data,” said a de Blasio spokesperson in response to PoliticsNY questions on reopening senior centers.


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