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Hillsborough County reopens some senior centers for the first time since the pandemic began

Woman sits wearing a face mask. Tables at a senior center are spread out around the room with other elderly people wearing masks sitting at them.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Christine Hill, 92, says she is looking forward to coming to the senior center in Progress Village every day now that it has reopened. Centers around the county were shut down for two years due to COVID-19.

The centers help many seniors stay active and connect with friends. County officials hope safety measures will allow them to keep the centers open, while limiting the spread of COVID.

For the first time in more than two years, some senior centers in Hillsborough County are open. They shut down in 2020 to protect older residents from COVID-19.

Inside a center in Progress Village on Monday morning, seniors laughed and cheered as staff welcomed them back. There were balloons and a banner on the wall that read “We missed you so much.”

These facilities offer dining and activities to seniors and are a lifeline for many, said Frances Durán Brea, a general manager with Hillsborough County Aging Services.

“It is so exciting because even though we have been able to have some of them stay connected and offered wellness programs through Zoom, you know a lot of the population in this age group have challenges to connect with technology so some of them weren't able to,” she said.

Room in a senior center. Elderly people wearing face masks sit at folding tables. A staff member speaks to them. Banner on the wall says "We missed you so much."
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
The county has implemented safety measures for seniors and staff to follow in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Progress Village resident Christine Hill, 92, was able to participate in the virtual activities and said they helped her keep in touch with friends, as she lives alone. But Hill said they couldn’t replace actually being together.

“No matter what kind of problems you have, when you come to a place like this, it's so much laughter and fun and different things to do, it makes every day go easier,” she said.

Hill wore a face mask, as did most people at the center. The county is encouraging seniors and requiring staff to do so. Hand sanitizer was also available and small tables were spread out around the center, so that large groups of people weren’t sitting close together.

Staff are telling seniors to greet each other with fist bumps or other gestures that involve limited contact, which Angelina Alexander, who volunteers on the center’s advisory council, said has been an adjustment.

“We love each other. Before COVID, we’re huggers in here, you walked in and everybody would hug and touch,” she said, adding that it’s worth it to be back.

County staff say they know the pandemic is not over and that seniors are still vulnerable to infection. They plan to monitor the situation and will make changes if needed.

“Definitely leadership is keeping an eye on the COVID rates and we will adjust accordingly, because the most important focus for us is their wellbeing,” said Durán Brea.

Along with Progress Village, senior centers in Plant City and Ruskin opened on Monday. The county is taking a phased approach to reopening its facilities, with six others scheduled to open in two weeks and more in the months after that.

View a schedule below. To learn more about the programs offered by Hillsborough County Aging Services visit the department’s website or call 813-272-5250.

The schedule below is subject to change.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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