County senior centers reopen

Allen Laman/The Herald
Kaci Wehr, left, leads a socially distanced fitness class at the Older Americans Center in Jasper on Tuesday. Masks must be worn at all times while visiting the OAC. Once exercise participants are stationed in their socially distanced spot, however, they may remove their mask — as long as they remain distanced from other class members.


JASPER — Life is returning to senior centers in Dubois County. Both the Older Americans Center in Jasper and the Huntingburg Senior Center have begun easing back into operations.

Local leadership believes socialization can be crucial for seniors. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, older citizens are encouraged to stay informed and weigh their options when it comes to getting out.

“I think the main thing is we’re very concerned about our seniors,” said Dr. Ted Waflart, Dubois County’s public health officer. “And I don’t feel right telling them you just have to stay locked down because you’re more vulnerable than the rest. I think it’s up to us to try to find ways for them to socialize. And again, if these senior centers ... can provide that, I think that’s good. I’m all for that.”

After closing in March, the Older Americans Center began a soft, slow reopening on Oct. 6. The facility is open twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. The two-hour time gap between the two sessions is used for cleaning and disinfecting.

Social distancing guidelines must be followed inside the center and masks are required for entry. Temperatures are checked at the door with a scanner and a sign-in station tracks names and phone numbers of everyone who comes in — just in case contact tracing would be needed.

“Not everything is available yet,” explained Kaci Wehr the community engagement coordinator at the Jasper center. “We’re not planning any specific programming other than exercise classes. But, of course, the seniors can come in and utilize the library [and] gather some puzzles to borrow to take home with them as well.”

Those indoor and outdoor fitness classes have returned in a limited capacity. One class is offered in the mornings and pre-registration is required. A maximum of 20 participants can participate in each class to ensure proper distancing protocol.

Wehr noted that the center will continue to adapt as necessary.

“At the moment, we do not have a ton of people coming to the center,” she said on Tuesday. “So, it is pretty limited still, because I know we are pretty limited on what it is that we are offering with our soft opening. We always want to err on the side of caution on our end. We want to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

The Huntingburg Senior Center began its reopening on Sept. 28 after a six-and-a-half-month closure. Rita Reller, the center’s director, said that the facility has resumed hosting card tourneys on Mondays and bingo on Wednesdays. The center is also open for cards and games on Thursdays.

“I haven’t been advertising yet because we’re supposed to be social distancing,” Reller said. “So, I can only have about half the people in that I usually had. So, I’m just letting it get around word of mouth right now so we don’t get too many people in at one time.”

Masks are required there, too, and surfaces are also being disinfected. Reller pointed to the benefits that come with socialization when speaking about the relaunching of activities at her center.

“Seniors need to be out and socializing,” she said. “It’s good for their mental health, as well as their physical health. They need the socialization. And so it’s bad for them to be cooped up for long periods of time. They need to be around people. And keeping their minds active, card games do that.”

Shawn Werner, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department, said that seniors need to weigh the risks and make their own determinations.

“There’s a lot of mental health aspects that come with it,” he said in a Tuesday phone call. “If you’re sitting at home depressed and you can’t get out and socialize and that’s what keeps you going, you have to weigh that risk with the chances of coming in contact with it (COVID-19).”

He continued: “And if these centers do it correctly, and they social distance and they wear their masks, then like Dr. Waflart said, nothing’s ever 100 percent safe, but there are ways to go about doing things in a safer manner. If you follow the guidance.”

A call to the Ferdinand Senior Citizens Center for comment in this story was not returned.

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