Southold Town’s senior center gets set to reopen

After more than a year in isolation, seniors across the North Fork will soon be able to begin socializing with their peers again at the senior center in Mattituck.

Senior center director Karen McLaughlin announced plans to reopen the facility with safeguards against COVID-19 in place at a work session Tuesday morning.

“I truly believe we can do this safely,” Ms. McLaughlin said, noting that many elderly residents have been confined to their homes since last year. “Our seniors have been so strong and resilient.”

Pending approval from the county office of the aging, the facility could reopen on a limited basis as soon as this month.

According to senior citizen program supervisor Jacqueline Martinez, the center will initially start with in-person lunch service and could expand to offer more activities that are low contact.

Officials said there’s currently no plan to reopen the adult day care program at Katinka House.

At reduced capacity, the senior center will be able to accommodate 54 people for lunch. Plexiglass barriers have been installed at tables to ensure social distancing and Ms. Martinez said home delivery and pickup options will still be available for seniors who aren’t comfortable returning just yet.

Masks and temperature screenings will be required for seniors attending lunch in person and reservations must be made.

Ms. McLaughlin spoke Tuesday about her staff’s “incredible effort” to continue providing essential services to senior citizens, who account for 33% of all town residents, during the pandemic.

Whereas the center serves 40,000 meals in a typical year, they finished 2020 at over 62,000 meals, and the number of seniors who sought out their services doubled. Grant funding awarded to the town last spring also allowed the center to purchase a new outdoor freezer and generator and a van with a lift to help accommodate handicapped individuals and continue its medical transportation program.

In addition to socially distant home visits conducted from front lawns and porches, staff members have also helped between 550 and 600 seniors secure vaccination appointments. 

“During times like these, we all pull together, we all work hard and we can really make things happen,” she said.

In the meantime, town meetings are also expected to begin allowing in-person public attendance after more than a year of virtual meetings.

Health and safety guidelines, including masks, temperature checks and social distancing, will be in place and seating will be limited. A memo from Supervisor Scott Russell also noted that during public hearings, seats and common areas, such as door knobs and podiums, will be disinfected frequently.

“It’s time to open the doors,” Mr. Russell said Tuesday, adding that he doesn’t think the town should do away with Zoom. “Zoom should supplement or enhance public meetings,” he said.

The number of seats in the public meeting hall was reduced to 22 to allow for proper spacing, though that number may increase based on rapidly changing state guidelines.

According to the supervisor’s memo, members of the public may be required to request an appointment to appear and speak in person at a hearing. “Each appointment shall be on a first-come, first-serve basis,” the memo states. “If the number of people requesting an appointment exceeds 22, the hearing shall remain open until the following board meeting to ensure that interested parties have an opportunity to appear.”

Mr. Russell said Tuesday he’d like meetings to be open for in-person attendance within the month of May.