In a sign of returning normalcy, the Williams County Senior Centers opened for the first time in more than a year Monday.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the seven senior centers in the county back in March of 2020. While they were technically able to open in September, guidelines in place (specifically a requirement of testing the seniors) made opening up too difficult.

With those regulations now gone, the Williams County Department of Aging has started a phased-in opening of the centers that began on Monday.

“It’s just like coming home,” said Maggie Fisher, executive director of the Williams County Department of Aging.

After hearing from all the senior center managers across the county, she said they had a “really good day” with good numbers at all the centers for their grand reopening.

“We’re really working hard to provide the services we have at our centers and keeping it safe, so our seniors are healthy,” Fisher said.

She was at the Edon Senior Center Monday morning, welcoming the seniors back in and welcoming the new manager at the site.

The seniors there were excited.

“It was really quite funny because one of them said, ‘I don’t really remember how to play this, it’s been over a year since I played this card game,’” Fisher said. “They got the swing of it and you could just see on their faces that it was so relaxing and so nice to be back and they missed it.”

She added they were excited to bring the service back to county seniors.

At the Bryan Senior Center, Debbie Gearhart, site manager, said they played bingo Monday morning prior to lunch.

“We’d love to see everybody here,” she said. “We have a shuffleboard court, bingo, exercises, we’ve got a Wii, too.”

Nothing is currently on the schedule for June, she said, but people will be able to come in and just do what they want with friends. There will be exercises on Wednesday.

During lunch, 27 people enjoyed the meal and fellowship.

“I expect it to grow by leaps and bounds,” she said. “Normally, we’d have 50 or 60 here on a daily basis ... A lot of people said they would come back every day.”

Robert Byroads was glad to see the senior centers back open, saying it was closed for “too long.”

Byroads would go to the center daily prior to them closing down last year and he intends to be back in daily.

“(I enjoy) the food, visiting with some people my age,” he said. “I live alone, see, cooking for one person you don’t really cook a meal you just get something around to eat.”

Rodney Missler said the $3 price tag for a meal at the senior center is hard to beat, while Byroads added that they serve food for nutrition, not just taste to get you back.

Marcelle Hagelberger said she was “delighted” to see friends again.

“It’s nice to be out and about again,” she said, adding she was happy to not have to wear a mask. “Even at the thrift shop we wore masks until last week, at church we wore masks until last week.”

Hagelberger was another regular who intends to come in daily, except for Wednesdays when she works at a local thrift store.

Phased Reopening

The Williams County Department of Aging released a reopening plan available on the department’s Facebook page.

Phase One started Monday with all seven centers open normal days. So, the Bryan, Montpelier and West Unity centers will be open Monday through Friday while Edgerton, Edon, Pioneer and Stryker will be open Monday through Thursday.

All centers will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch served at 11:30 a.m. everywhere except West Unity, where lunch is at noon due to route and delivery time availability.

Congregate dining only is allowed with reservations being made by 2 p.m. the day before. Salad bar and side salads will not be available.

Phase Two currently has no start date, but will allow the centers to be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with breakfast, salad bar and soup options being made available.

Field trips, excursions and large group events will start up again in this phase.

Fisher said there was no set timeline on when they shift into Phase Two, but didn’t expect it to be long.

“We’re just kind of getting used to be being back right now,” she said. “We really didn’t restrict a whole lot, we’re just kind of closing a bit early, just to allow our staff time for deep cleaning. We want to make sure the cards are clean, the tables and chairs are clean for the next day and just get things like that done aside from the normal cleaning we would have done.”

In Phase Three, also with no start date, the centers will open back up to their pre-COVID hours, though lunch times will be the same.

Evening meals are set to resume in 2022.

At any point in this reopening, if a positive COVID-19 case is reported for any staff, participant, senior, volunteer, etc. then the center will close down for a day to deep clean. Once everyone involved has self-monitored and no further cases are found, the center will reopen.

Fisher wanted to say how appreciative she has been of the community and the support they received from the county.

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