Ready to break bread again

The Athens Senior Center is one of three county centers reopening this summer for congregate in-person meals. Two facilities — Catskill and Coxsackie — will remain closed. Contributed photo

It has been about 15 months since Greene County senior centers closed their doors to the public due to the coronavirus, but things are about to change.

Three of the county’s five senior centers — in Athens, Acra and Jewett — will reopen Aug. 2 to in-person dining. The two remaining facilities, in Catskill and Coxsackie, will remain closed for the foreseeable future, Therese McGee Ward, executive director of the Greene County Department of Human Services, said Tuesday.

But things will look a bit different at facilities where in-person dining will be permitted.

The centers closed to both programming and in-person meals in March 2020 after Greene County adopted a resolution declaring a state of emergency due to the outbreak.

All meals were switched to home-delivered meals and eligibility requirements for home deliveries were suspended under the governor’s major disaster declaration, according to the department.

When the centers reopen in August, clients will be required to register for a meal at least 24 hours in advance, which they were doing prior to the pandemic, but there will also be capacity limits, temperature checks at the entrance and condiments like salt and pepper will be provided in individual packets. Tables will be moved around so people who do not live in the same household will be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Diners will not be permitted to get their own coffee or water from the coolers, as was done in pre-COVID times, McGee Ward said.

“They are seniors, so we are very concerned about their safety,” she said.

Individuals who have been fully vaccinated will be able to enter the building without a face mask if they wish, and those who have not been inoculated will be required to wear a face covering except when they are seated and eating their meal.

The facility will not check vaccination records as people enter the building, McGee Ward said.

There will be limits to how many people are allowed in the buildings, and once that limit has been reached, additional diners will be permitted to pick up takeout meals without entering the building, which was not permitted in pre-COVID times, she said.

The three centers that are reopening — in Athens, Acra and Jewett — were selected because those are “cooking sites” where meals are prepared.

The two remaining sites — in Catskill and Coxsackie — normally have meals delivered from the cooking sites. Both will remain closed due to staffing shortages.

“We are not opening Catskill and Coxsackie, which has everything to do with the fact that we do not have enough staff,” McGee Ward said. “Prior to and during the pandemic, people retired, people resigned and we have been actively looking and advertising for people to fill those positions and we are either not getting people to apply or they are not showing up for the interview.”

The department has half the kitchen staff they need to keep all five facilities running, so all hands are needed on deck.

“Everybody has been pulled to a cooking site at this point,” McGee Ward said. “Even my coordinator of nutrition services is working in the kitchen instead of working in the office. If somebody would normally work in Coxsackie, for instance, they would be moved to a cooking site because we need every hand in the kitchen.”

Anyone interested in applying for a job in the food services industry should call the county’s department of human resources at 518-719-3772.

The reopening only applies to in-person meals. Programming at the senior centers remains suspended, but the county is actively considering resuming programming, McGee Ward said.

For the past 15 months, the meal-delivery program has been in higher demand than usual, she added.

“During 2020, our nutrition program increased 86.75% in the number of clients that needed a meal,” McGee Ward said. “Everybody was afraid to go out and the rules were relaxed.” The decision to resume in-person meals at three of the county-run senior centers was made with care, she said.

“We took this so seriously that we delayed opening longer than some other counties,” she said.

The Athens, Acra and Jewett senior centers will resume in-person meals Aug. 2.

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