The Weymouth Senior Center has opened its doors for limited classes and activities under strict COVID-19 safety measures.
WEYMOUTH — Weymouth Elder Services was all set to have its biggest party of 2020 on St. Patrick’s Day last March —175 people were signed up to attend — when everything came to a wrenching halt. On March 16, the senior center had to close due to the spreading coronavirus and Gov. Charlie Baker’s orders for a statewide lock down.
Karen Johnston, director of elder services, vowed that the active older adults would be back as soon as she could make it happen. More than six months later, the Whipple Senior Center reopened its doors for limited classes and activities this week under strict COVID-19 safety measures.
“It’s nothing like it was before and the seniors have to sign up for everything, they can’t just stop by,” Johnston said. “But we are very thrilled to be moving forward to offer as much as we can.”
Any programs in the gym can include no more than 28 people — a long shot from 175.
It took weeks of work to negotiate the opening with state and local officials and prepare the building. Johnston met with the town health department, emergency management team and Mayor Bob Hedlund.
“Mayor Hedlund gave us tremendous support in helping us charter our new path following all safety protocols to get our seniors returned to programs,” Johnston said.
Her task was first to learn the exact size of the rooms in the center and then apply state formulas to determine how many people could safely be in each room together and how they would be socially distant.
“Prior to COVID, our senior center hosted between 175 and 250 seniors per day, or roughly 1,000 to 1,250 seniors per week at more than 60 programs,” Johnston said. “This week, under the new norm, we are hosting 15 programs and expect attendance of about just over 150 for the week.”
When the group exercise classes begin Oct. 26, they will be much smaller.
Seniors have to register for limited spaces. Before COVID, 75 to 85 seniors took each class; now each class is limited to 25.
“Once the exercise classes come back we expect to see about 300 seniors a week, well under our old norm of 1,250 a week,” Johnston said.
The Whippoorwills choral group also met Monday in the gym with 17 members sitting in chairs six feet apart. They kept their masks on as they sang. The group has been singing outside at King Oak Hill Park and practiced with masks for the move inside. Johnston said they may be able to sing without their masks if they can sit at least 12 feet apart.
Johnston emphasized that it is very important for the seniors to stay safe, but also to be able to gather together.
“We lost some members to COVID and we could not even get together to mourn for them,” she said. “We have all been tremendously affected by this and by staying home for seven months.”
The center bought a large air filtering system for the gym, where 90 percent of the classes will take place and two smaller air filters for the classrooms. Bedside tables were purchased for the gym so that seniors sitting in chairs instead of at tables would each have a table. Federal funds under the CARES coronavirus economic stimulus act were used.
The rooms are sanitized and tables and chairs wiped down between each class. There is a plexiglass barrier at the reception desk and hand sanitizing stations in the hallways.
Many materials and supplies also had to be replaced. When the coloring group met Monday, new coloring books were bought for the occasion; the members brought their own pens and markers, which could be sanitized.
The staff has laid out floor markers for the flow of traffic in and out of the rooms, corridors and the gymnasium.
Another 100 seniors also registered for the Weymouth Health Department Flu Shot Clinic held Wednesday. The seniors called to register in advance and drove by the the side of the building to sign a permission form and receive their flu shot in the car.