Local CHEER centers gear up for reopening

Six of seven CHEER Inc. activity centers for seniors are scheduled to reopen this month — three today and three others Aug. 10. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

GEORGETOWN — With shutdown shackles partially lifted, CHEER Inc. soon plans to reopen six of its seven senior activity centers — all closed since mid-March by the coronavirus pandemic.

Activity centers in Greenwood, Lewes (Harbour Lights) and Long Neck are scheduled to open today. The Milton, Ocean View and combined Georgetown/Roxana centers will open Aug. 10.

The facilities will be open weekdays, offering socializing, nutrition and a designated activity, all with social distancing.

Ken Bock

“We welcome everybody back into CHEER,” said CHEER CEO Ken Bock. “We are glad to have you back in, but we are also, at the same time, doing everything that we reasonably can to provide the safest and most healthful environment as you come back and join us at CHEER.”

Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency modification announced July 24 allows senior centers to open with safety precautions at 30% capacity. With 6-foot social distancing, that equates to 113 square feet per person, Mr. Bock said.

“We also understand and appreciate the need for caution and safety for all concerned. We have gone in and done the calculations, so we know exactly the maximum number of people that we can accommodate in each of our facilities,” he said.

All centers/congregate nutrition sites have been closed since March 13 in accordance with Gov. Carney’s state of emergency.
Reopening even at a limited 30% is a huge step for CHEER’s clientele, Mr. Bock said.

“We think it is significant,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there we know that suffer because of isolation. We are very grateful to have the opportunity to welcome them back into the CHEER family.”

To meet anticipated demand, CHEER is taking advanced reservations for people wanting to come to centers. CHEER members can call or go online in advance to reserve spots.

“We will take a list of people approved to come in up to that maximum number,” Mr. Bock said. “We want to serve as many as we safely can. If we find that we are having to establish waiting lists — and we will find that — then we will figure out a rotation and we will put in place a rotation system that allows everybody at least the opportunity to get into the center a couple of times a week to have that socially distanced interaction.”

While some CHEER members can drive themselves or have family to bring them to centers, CHEER’s bus fleet has reduced capacity due to COVID-19 social distance parameters. Riders will alternate seats in every other row, which can reduce bus capacity down to about three or four people. “We are planning to try to do double-runs,” Mr. Bock said.

A typical day at the center will include socially distanced interactions, a meal and a planned activity for that day. All activities have been structured so patrons can participate individually with no need for partners or groups. There will be no exchange of common materials, which will either be disposable or sanitized for reuse.

Sanitizing, disinfecting and staff training have been paramount in the long-awaited reopening.

Heightened emphasis has been placed on increased frequency of cleaning and sanitation, particularly frequently touched areas. Each center will be thoroughly cleaned every evening.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, each center was professionally cleaned and sanitized. “Going into this, we know that the facilities are completely disinfected,” Mr. Bock said.

CHEER has purchased foggers, other dispensing equipment and products to try to maintain the sanitary environment, he said.

All centers have social distance markings on floors like those seen in stores. Reception areas now feature Plexiglas shielding. CHEER staff have been trained with masks, disinfectant and gloves.

Everyone entering a CHEER center is required to wear a mask.

And anybody coming into a CHEER center or boarding a CHEER bus will have their temperature taken with a no-touch scan thermometer. Those entering will also be asked several health-related screening questions.

“Again, we are trying to make sure we are not knowingly having anybody come into the center that is suffering any of the effects of COVID that could potentially be contagious,” Mr. Bock said.

Login/check-in information, which includes name, date and arrival/departure time at the center, will be saved for potential contact tracing in collaboration with Delaware’s Division of Public Health.

“We will have, and we will maintain, those logs,” said Mr. Bock. “If, at some point in the future, somebody does test positive or we are asked to provide information, we will have who has been in the center, who was been on the bus any particular day and time, so that we will be able to identify specifically who might have been in close proximity or contact. We are required to provide that contact information to Public Health, and we will do that.”

CHEER is offering seniors from its Roxana center the opportunity to come to Georgetown for nutrition and activities at the facility there. “We’re going to be doing a combination of those two centers (Georgetown and Roxana). We have some issues that we have not been able to resolve in terms of physical logistics in the Roxana building at the Pyle State Service Center,” Mr. Bock said.

Volunteers needed

In gearing up for the reopening, CHEER has recruited additional volunteers, but there is a need for more.

“We have procedures for logging people in, for checking people,” Mr. Bock said. “We do have a greater need for volunteers because of all the additional responsibilities and functions related to COVID. We will train volunteers. We will provide your personal protective equipment to make sure that we keep you safe in the process. We also need people to continue to deliver meals. There’s a lot of (volunteer) opportunity.”

Volunteers are sought to serve meals and drinks between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and receptionists/screeners are also needed in CHEER’s activity centers weekdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Anyone interested in volunteering may contact Elizabeth Walls, CHEER volunteer director, at 515-3040 or ewalls@cheerde.com.