East Orange Division of Senior Services resumes in-person programming

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — After more than a year and a half apart due to the pandemic, East Orange’s seniors are back together, thanks to programming from the city. As COVID-19 restrictions change, the East Orange Division of Senior Services, under the Department of Health and Human Services, recently officially resumed in-person programming.

Now, the senior community can go back to partaking in a number of activities together, including swimming, golfing, dining and shopping. DSS staff members are glad to be back in person and able to interact face-to-face with the people on whom they had kept close tabs during the pandemic.

“For over a year, we were not able to conduct any in-person activities, but we still provided the essential services that our seniors needed,” East Orange public information officer Connie Jackson said on Aug. 2. “We have a great staff in our Division of Senior Services, and so, despite the restricted activities, our personnel still kept close tabs on our seniors through routine wellness calls, visits to senior buildings, free food distribution, transportation to testing and vaccination sites, and more. How to safely resume activities was always an active item on our agenda, so when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, we were ready to go.”

Senior Services manager Rita Butts called East Orange’s senior population “vibrant and robust.”

“A lot of what makes them so energetic is the programming we offer to keep them active and their spirits lifted. In-person activities also provide our seniors with that human connection that was missing during the quarantine period,” Butts said on Aug. 2. “Some of our seniors don’t have large families to visit them, and others have to be extremely careful when visiting loved ones to keep themselves healthy and COVID free — both can be very lonely.

“Our programming is important to the mental and physical health of our seniors because it allows them to connect with one another during these unprecedented times,” she continued.

While the city’s seniors are back together now, the city is enforcing a mask mandate at events to protect those who might be vulnerable to the virus and to prevent transmission.

“We are closely monitoring all of the new information from the Centers for Disease Control as it relates to the new delta variant,” Jackson said. “With the senior population still amongst the most vulnerable, we have developed strict policies that will ensure both our seniors and staff are kept safe. We also have a high percentage of our seniors who are fully vaccinated, and we are working every day to vaccinate more. Currently, 62 percent of older adults 65 and over have completed their vaccine courses and 72 percent have completed at least one dose. We are seeing progress every day.”

In addition to masking at senior events, the city has mandated that masks be worn indoors, where social distancing is not feasible, as well as on senior transportation.

“We’re also encouraging our seniors to sanitize their hands frequently. We are constantly cleaning our facilities and buses to ensure we do our part in stopping the spread of the virus,” Jackson said. “Naturally, there is some fear among our seniors about the new variant strains of the virus, and that is why all health and safety protocols are monitored, implemented and adjusted as needed.”

East Orange Mayor Ted Green said the city is closely monitoring COVID cases and is applying best practices from agencies across the country.

“We have an extremely robust and active senior population here in the city of East Orange and we are delighted that our Division of Senior Services, as well as our Department of Cultural Affairs, can provide opportunities for our seniors to get back together again, see friends and have a great time,” Green said on Aug. 2. “Our health department is in lockstep with our county, state and federal agencies to carefully monitor these new variants and ensure that we follow and enforce all recommended guidelines to keep our residents and community safe.

“The new game plan is the same as the old game plan: to follow the science, to enforce the recommended safety procedures, and to make sure that everyone in our community has access to information and quality health care.”

Photos Courtesy of East Orange