As the vaccinated population sees a steady increase in Queens, more facilities and programs are becoming accessible to the public again. Bayside Senior Center has also reopened — although with restrictions.
“We are [currently] operating at about 35% capacity and still practicing social distancing,” said Pang Chu, Bayside Senior Center’s program manager, upon being asked about the extent to which the center is currently operating.
One of the center’s adjustments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is that they now offer a grab-and-go option for meals, which was never done before the closure. Seniors that wish to eat at the center may do so after calling in advance, but only two seniors can sit at each table. Before the pandemic, there were between six and eight seats per table, explained Chu.
The center’s volunteers have also returned to serve meals and assist visitors.
“It definitely feels weird volunteering at the center with very [few] people,” said Andres Martinez, a volunteer and senior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School. “When I volunteered before the pandemic, there were so many people taking part in activities and the center was always busy. Hopefully more seniors will come to the center soon; I’d love to see the dance floor filled up again.”
As the pandemic invaded opportunities for social interaction and extended time at home due to closures of public facilities, seniors claimed to have frequently experienced sentiments of isolation and emptiness.
“I’ve been [volunteering] here since 2005, so I know a lot of people,” said Pat Walton, a senior volunteer. “And I missed everyone while the center was closed.”
Life during the pandemic was lonely, Walton said. The long days were spent watching television and occasionally speaking to people on the phone. But she was lucky to have a friend take her shopping for food on a regular basis.
Now, seniors are able to greet each other and find a small escape from the social isolation brought on by the pandemic. Small-group dance and exercise classes take place in the morning, and seniors can also interact with each other during a round of karaoke in the afternoon.
The Bayside Senior Center looks forward to the day in which it will welcome seniors at full capacity, without COVID-related restrictions. But for now, they take satisfaction in the major step it took to reopen after a long period of closure.
“Yay! It feels great to be back,” Walton exclaimed.