Erie County will suspend many of its older adult programs, including congregate dining at senior centers, to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus.
The county’s Department of Senior Services made the announcement Friday evening shortly after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers older adults, those aged 60 and older, at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Nursing homes nationwide have limited outside visitors or prohibited visitation all together.
Erie County’s congregate dining will be suspended beginning Tuesday. The program offers free hot lunches to those 60 and older at approximately 50 locations, mostly senior centers and churches.
Site directors will start contacting regular attendees Monday to help them sign up for the county’s home-delivered meal programs through Meals on Wheels, county officials said. The county provides financial support to Meals on Wheels for Western New York, now part of FeedMore Western New York, as well Meals on Wheels organizations in Kenmore and Amherst.
New participants could join the Meals on Wheels programs as soon as Wednesday, county officials said.
Erie County Senior Services Commissioner David Shenk in a statement thanked Meals on Wheels organization for their cooperation.
“It is great to see the community working together during this crisis,” he said.
Meals on Wheels volunteers will take extra precautions, too, like keeping a six-foot distance between themselves and their homebound clients during deliveries, county officials said.
Volunteers will also now contact clients before arriving to ask that their door be unlocked if they don’t already have a location where a meal can be set and safely accessed; keep visual contact to ensure the client is safe; and carry hand sanitizer.
Meals on Wheels for Western New York, which already serves about 3,400 homebound older adults throughout the region, did not immediately return a request for comment Friday evening.
In addition to meal program changes, county Senior Services will cancel or cut back significantly on its other programs as well.
All wellness programs, such as Matter of Balance courses, and home visits will be suspended beginning Monday. Home appointments will now be done via phone or video teleconference, county officials said.
The county’s senior transportation program will now only be open to dialysis patients beginning Wednesday. However, county officials said older adults can call their dispatch at 858-RIDE and it will be determined if transportation can be provided.
Van drivers have been provided with surface wipes, hand sanitizer and information on personnel safety protocols, officials added.
The county also announced that several senior organizations have already suspended their services, including Catholic Charities’ Gathering Place Adult Day Care; Salvation Army’s congregate dining; Northwest Buffalo Community Center and the senior centers in Cheektowaga and the city of Tonawanda.