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‘We ain’t got nothing to do’: El Paso senior centers still remain closed due to pandemic

Elvira Ortega among a group of El Pasoans protesting the continued closure of the city's senior centers.

EL PASO, Texas -- The grand opening of two new city-owned water parks was not welcome news for some older El Pasoans who said they felt forgotten because the facilities they depend on remain closed.

Elvira Ortega sent ABC-7 an open letter she addressed to the city, asking for the centers to reopen.

Ortega and others who use the facilities gathered outside the San Juan Senior Center Tuesday to discuss their frustrations with ABC-7. Some of them carried handmade signs that called for the centers to be opened again.

Ortega said before Covid-19, she was at the San Juan Senior Center daily. She said she goes to stay cool, play games or exercise. But her most important activity is human interaction.

"We talk to our friends," Ortega said. "A lot of us don't have family and live by ourselves. There's nobody there. All we have to keep us company is the TV.

"There are not that many places we can go to," Ortega added. "I won't go to a water park or a splash park. I won't go to a rec center and play basketball."

Dora Villanueva joined the group outside the senior center, but told ABC-7 she considered Hilos de Plata Senior Center her second home.

Villanueva told ABC-7 she heard 22 of her fellow seniors who frequented that facility have died over the last year --not from Covid, but from lack of human interaction and physical activity.

"They didn't get exercise, they didn't dance or sing with friends, and they became sad," Villanueva said.

She had a direct request of El Paso's public health leader: "We want to go back. We have ceramics and dancing and singing. And that's why we want to go back and do our exercise and last at least one more day. We're retired and we ain't got nothing to do," Villanueva added, choking back tears.

ABC-7 took the concerns to Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the El Paso City-County Health Authority.

Ocaranza said they're still evaluating how to reopen the senior centers safely.

He emphasized that although the infection rate is decreasing, seniors are still the most vulnerable population.

"Our thoughts are always with them because they're the most precious part of our community," Ocaranza said in a virtual interview Tuesday. "They're our legacy; they taught us a lot of values and a lot of stories, many things that we don't want to lose if we expose them too early. So definitely, we haven't forgotten about them."

The city said the reopening of senior centers depends on El Paso as a whole reaching herd immunity, which is considered to be more than 70 percent of the population being vaccinated.

While 83 percent of the senior population are fully vaccinated, only about 58 percent of all eligible El Paso County residents are fully vaccinated.

ABC-7 Listens / ABC-7 Xtra / El Paso / Local News / News / Video

Stephanie Valle

Stephanie Valle co-anchors ABC-7 at 5, 6 and 10 weeknights.



  1. These senior citizens could also spend their free time like the local Trumptards do: post BS on KVIA forums and obsess over Alberto and Mark Turner.

    1. Oh look it’s Alberto in his transgender moment. Are you that stupid? You wouldn’t make a post like that if you weren’t dumbass Alberto. We know who you are.

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