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Belmont senior centers to get active

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County’s senior citizens can look forward to a step-by-step return to activities and events at area senior centers if COVID-19 cases decline as anticipated.

During a report to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, Senior Services Director Dwayne Pielech said he was encouraged by the high number of vaccinated senior citizens in Belmont County combined with the improving weather and the prospect of holding outdoor events.

“The coronavirus and all the rules and regulations that go with it have been difficult on Americans, and it’s no different in Belmont County — both for our seniors who were active members of our senior centers prior to the pandemic including our staff,” Pielech said. “It’s been a long 15 months since our centers closed, and we’re trying to do whatever we can.”

They will follow state guidelines.

“The rules in Ohio haven’t changed to allow seniors to gather, but despite that we think there are still things we can do externally, outside,” he said. “With a population that’s very far along with vaccinations, we think we can try a few things.”

Pielech said a kickoff event is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. May 19 on the senior services headquarters lawn with a DJ and music.

“We’re going to survey all the seniors that participate in that,” Pielech said. “Our goal is in early June, we’ll start to do what we call some ‘soft’ openings, where we’ll have an event in the center once or twice a week.”

Staff will continue to ask seniors for ideas and make plans.

“So that by the time we get to mid-summer, hopefully we’ve got a structure in place, we’ve got more activities planned and hopefully it will be a more regular, weekly planned event.”

One step is determining the capacity of each building.

“Currently the state rules are if a senior center would try to reopen … you can’t have more than 50 percent of the full capacity of the center, so we’re working with the local fire departments to make sure we understand what the full capacity is at our various 10 locations, and then we’ll have a number of what 50 percent would be.”

There are other sanitation concerns.

“Some of our locations that are privately owned facilities, we know that there are other organizations and programs that utilize the same space or general area, and that poses a difficult challenge for the centers because we can’t have cross-contamination,” Pielech said. “It’s a barrier that we’ve got to work through, but we’ll work through with the landlords and try to overcome it.”

He said there are also barriers to travel. Regulations state only one person can be transported at a time from a senior’s home to a center, rather than vans that typically transport 10 seniors at a time. This means multiple trips by multiple drivers for a given center’s event, but field trips remain out-of-bounds.

Pielech hopes to return to an atmosphere where seniors can stop in and socialize.

“That’s what the seniors want. Some of them want that today, but it’s going to be driven by rules of the pandemic and where the pandemic is. …

“We talk to a lot of seniors on a weekly basis. They’re holding up. The ones we know are more isolated by themselves, we try to be more active with them, we try to take them out of the house for grocery shopping or something, because there’s a fair amount of seniors in Belmont County that don’t have family locally,” Pielech said.

“We all want normalcy to all our senior programs, but what counties can do is strictly limited,” Commissioner Josh Meyer said. “Our goal is to get activities going and see what interest and participation we might have.”

The senior services department is located at 45240 National Road. For more information, the phone number is 740-695-4142.

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