Coronavirus: No timeline for when Alberta seniors' centres can reopen

WATCH ABOVE: More people are now out and about, but that isn't the case for older Albertans who spent time at seniors' centres. As Julia Wong explains, there's no timeline for when they will reopen.

Parts of the province are beginning to reopen but there is no timeline yet for when seniors’ centres in Alberta can welcome members back.

Seniors are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and the majority of deaths in the province have been those older than 60 years old. However, social isolation can also have profound impacts on the elderly.

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Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said that, given the vulnerability of this population to the virus, a specific stage for reopening these seniors’ centres has not been determined.

“We understand that this uncertainty is difficult, and that these centres and the many Albertans who enjoy them want to see them identified in a specific stage in the relaunch plan. This is a high-risk population and further discussion is needed,” McMillan said.

The lack of a timeline is tough for Josie Richardson, president of the Southwest Edmonton Seniors Association.

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The association is open to those older than 55; it has 650 members and its facility offers members a place to gather for exercise, casual meetings and card games.

Richardson said the facility closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the association has reached out to its members as well as seniors living in the area for virtual programming.

However, Richardson said it is tough not knowing when the centre will open its doors again.

“Everybody in life, of course, we like to know exact dates of when things are happening but we’re going with the flow,” she said.

“Right now, we don’t have a date as to when the reopening will be, but we’re trying to prepare for a reopening. Do we need sanitation stations, gloves, masks? How are we going to welcome members back in as far as face-to-face contacts?”

Joan Hutton is a member and board trustee of the North West Edmonton Seniors Society. She and her husband joined the organization close to 11 years ago.

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“After we retired for a few years, we were looking for something to do besides housework so my husband and I joined and it’s been just wonderful for us. A real social, friendly, nice place to be,” Hutton said.

Hutton said the pair was involved with exercise programs, floor curling and shuffleboard at the seniors’ centre, adding it was important in keeping them active.

Life has been different with the centre shut down.

“We’re not near as active as we would be if we had the centre to go. You just miss the socializing and maybe being able to help people out. That’s a big thing for a seniors’ centre to make sure there’s nobody left out,” she said.

The impacts of social isolation have also been on Hutton’s mind.

“I don’t think I’ve done badly with it but you do have days where you have to have a talk to yourself and get a grip on yourself and say, ‘It’s not forever,’” she said.

While the lack of a timeline may be difficult for her, Hutton said it is better to be safe than sorry and would prefer for details to be worked out before the centres reopen and seniors congregate again, particularly if there is a second wave of the virus.

According to Sheila Hallett, executive director of the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council, there are 16 seniors’ centres in Edmonton and approximately 380 across the province.

The council is having conversations with the province about how to safely reopen the facilities.

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Hallett said considerations will need to be made for food services, recreational programs to keep members two metres apart and traffic flow in hallways, reception areas and washrooms. She said details may also need to be worked out on cleaning, training for staff and whether there is screening of members.

“It’s not something any of us have had to go through before so there’s lots to consider,” she said.

“We want to do it in ways to set the centres up for being safe and being able to offer those recreational opportunities that they’ve come to be known for. I know people are getting really antsy and want to get back to their normal routines, and that will happen it’s just, it has to be in a really safe approach.”

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