Southside Groups Keep Seniors Safe, Active During Pandemic

Seniors are still active – and following precautions – during the COVID-19 era.

DANVILLE – Folks hulled up and waited for the first couple of weeks in March. That’s when everyone thought COVID-19 would blow over in two weeks.

Seven months later, precautions are still in place in Virginia, but fewer people remain home day in and day out. The senior population, while most vulnerable to bad complications with the virus, are also looking for ways to safely get out of the house.

Takiyah Linder, interim program coordinator at the Ballou Recreation Center in Danville, expressed that seniors sometimes experience isolation. That’s during a pandemic or without one.

“A lot of seniors are alone at home, especially the ones that can live by themselves. We want to make sure that we are being able to be there for them socially, mentally, physically, in each one of those aspects,” Linder said. “It really is hard on seniors to just not do anything, when some of them are used to working and being retired. Everything just slowed down. We didn’t want to completely shut out everything for them.”

Linder and her team discussed options for safe senior programs during the pandemic. While in-person gatherings like BINGO weren’t realistic due to large numbers and crowded spaces, the team modified several programs with COVID safety guidelines.

“We have the virtual BINGO. Then we also have Prime Time Fitness, which is an exercise program,” Linder said. “And then we also have a line dance that we offer on Mondays and Thursdays as well.”

A productive plan

Taking the virus seriously, the center implemented precautions beyond typical social distancing standards and wearing masks.

“For one, we are doing reservations only. So we kind of have a number where we can safely accommodate everyone. We also have cut down on the capacity of our building. Everybody has to be 10 feet apart,” Linder said. “When they first come in, they do have their temperature checked and then they’re also asked a couple questions. You know, ‘Are you feeling well today? Have you been in contact with anybody who tested positive?’ You know, little questions like that.”

Class participants go to stations marked on the floor 10-feet apart with x-shaped tape. They must wear masks when traveling outside of their designated area.

“We do provide masks if some of the seniors don’t have one. They are really good with making sure they have their masks,” Linder said. “They don’t have to wear them while they’re exercising, but most of the seniors still do.”

Hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the building, and the staff members enhanced the center’s cleaning process.

“We clean before they come and we clean afterwards. Everything that they use, we ask that if they do touch it – like as far as using a chair or an elastic band or weights – that they leave it out so we can sanitize it once they are finished with that program,” Linder said. “We do that every class, for that class.”

Additional precautions

The center also changed its ways with money exchange.

“We’re highly recommending that you bring correct change so that we won’t have to give you money that someone else has come in with,” Linder said.

The interim program coordinator further noted that center staff also wear masks and gloves and take precautions seriously. Every day, staff members also receive temperature checks.

“Each day, we’re being more and more prepared,” Linder said.

Even though a normal day in October is only partially reminiscent of what a normal day looked like in February, the staff at the recreation center still offers great activities to the Southside senior population.

“It has been a big change, but I do believe we’re going about it the right way,” Linder said.

Need for programming

The Ballou Recreation Center provides a safe space for seniors to gather in the pandemic. That’s important for a couple reasons, Linder noted.

“We wanted to make sure that we were still being able to help our seniors because we don’t want our seniors to be at home, just sitting at home. It’s so easy for our seniors to become depressed or become alone,” Linder said. “We wanted to make sure that, if anything, we would have at least a couple of programs where they can still come out and still be active and also be able to be social with the other participants who come to the program.”

For those wanting to get out of the house, but uncomfortable with gathering inside a building, the center also offers outdoor programs.

“We also have a walking club that’s outside. It’s pretty much safer outside, if you’re still at six feet apart and still wearing your mask. I do highly encourage exercising outside. You know, getting a walk in. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout. Just walking can really help, just to benefit you exercise-wise, Linder said. “We also have a lot of virtual programs as well here in Danville, that they can still be able to be active with other participants in the community.”

Linder also noted that some gyms in Danville offer senior hours, usually early in the morning, for those with COVID concerns.

Back to normal

Linder looks forward to fully reopening the center and once again having a packed house for senior activites. That’s the plan, once things return to normal following the pandemic threat.

“We had a Friday night dance that we used to have. On some Fridays, there were up to 100 seniors here dancing,” Linder said. “A lot of our seniors are looking forward to getting that back.”

She also had great memories of impersonators, like Elvis Presley, performing at the center.

“It would just be a really neat program where they could come in and enjoy the concert and enjoy a catered lunch as well. We are looking forward to bringing back those types of programs, as well as some other programs we had. Our art programs, our other exercise programs, like Tai chi,” Linder said. “We’re also looking forward to starting up a chair Yoga class too, for our seniors. We do think they would really like it because like I said, exercise does not have to be intense. Anything can be used for exercise. We’re looking forward to bringing them all back.”

Once COVID-19 runs its course or scientists approve a vaccine, Linder looks forward to offering a full operation. Until then, she encouraged seniors to seek out the programming at the Ballou Recreation Center.

“I just really want other seniors that haven’t gotten out yet, just to be open and just come out when they can because I know it is scary. It really is scary during these times,” Linder said. “I just want to continue to let our seniors know that we are here for them and we’re trying to do our best.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

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