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Covid-19 scare shuts just reopened center

by Byron Tate | July 24, 2021 at 2:57 a.m.
The Pine Bluff senior center had a "covid scare" this week, causing the facility to be closed for a time while employees were tested and the building sanitized. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)

Two days after the Strachota Senior Center opened, it had to close temporarily from a "covid scare," according to an administrator.

After being closed for months because of the covid pandemic, the Pine Bluff center, located at 801 E. Eighth Ave., and 13 other centers across southeast Arkansas opened Monday. By Wednesday, however, the Pine Bluff facility, where seniors eat meals, exercise, play pool and visit, had a risk of covid-19 exposure that forced the facility to close while testing and sanitizing took place, according to Aisha Madison, director of senior center operations.

Madison said she could not go into detail about the exact nature of the "scare" but said it was sufficient to have all of the employees tested for covid and the entire building thoroughly sanitized. All of that took place on Thursday, she said on Friday, a day when the facility was being prepped to once again accept seniors Monday. Madison said the employee tests all came back negative.

"Someone called with a positive covid test so we began our covid protocol," Madison said. So we're not closed. We just had to make sure everything was disinfected, and now everything has been cleaned."

The days that the facility was open this week saw about 30 seniors enter. Three or four times that number would have come through the doors before the pandemic, Madison said, adding that the center is eager for seniors to return.

"We've got exercise classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays," she said. "We have treadmills and bicycles, as well as elliptical machines and weights. We intend to make it as comfortable as possible."

During the covid-closure period, seniors could drive up and pick up a meal. They can still do that, but they can also come inside and eat now, Madison said.

The center is operated by the Area Agency on Aging. Other senior centers are at Stuttgart, DeWitt, Crossett, Hamburg, Warren, Dermott, Lake Village, Eudora, Rison, McGehee, Sheridan, Star City and Monticello. Those facilities have not had any covid-related interruptions this week, Madison said.

Covid-19 cases have been spiking across the state for the past few weeks with two recent days each approaching 1,900 new cases, a number that hasn't been seen since February. The surge has been blamed on the highly infectious delta variant of the covid virus, which is of special concern to the unvaccinated. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and the nation's highest covid rate, according to published reports.

Asked if she was concerned about opening the doors to the senior centers during the new outbreak, Madison said she was but that precautions are being taken.

"I'm a little concerned," she said. "But all services and staff are following strict protocols. We sanitize and everyone is wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart."

An earlier news release from the agency said officials wouldn't ask seniors for proof of covid-19 vaccination, but the agency would like for those who have been vaccinated to share a copy of their vaccination card.

"Please note: We strongly recommend being vaccinated to attend programming (at the centers.) If you have not been vaccinated for covid-19 and are attending programs at any of AAASEA Senior Centers, you are doing so at your own risk," stated the news release.

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