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El Paso senior centers officially reopen after public outcry: ‘We ain’t got nothing to do’

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

UPDATE, July 6: The city of El Paso on Tuesday officially reopened some of its senior centers.

The city's ten senior centers will open once a week, either Tuesday or Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon to allow older adults to socialize and participate in activities such as bingo and loteria. (Scroll down in this article to see the days and hours of operation for specific centers.)

To adhere with current Covid-19 protocols, officials said capacity at each center will be limited to 80 percent. If demand exceeds this level, staff will create timed sessions for games and socializing to ensure all seniors have access to the centers.

The city said it delayed the reopening of the centers because older adults who contract Covid-19 are at a higher risk of complications from the virus.

UPDATE, June 20: After a public outcry earlier this month in which older adults complained to ABC-7 of having "nothing to do" as pandemic restrictions were lifted for other facilities and activities, the City of El Paso Parks and Recreation Department has now unveiled plans to reopen ten of the community's senior centers beginning July 6.

“Because the virus still poses a threat to the health and well-being of our seniors, the re-opening process will be conducted gradually and cautiously to further minimize the risk of infection to our seniors," said the city's Cultural Affairs and Recreation Managing Director Ben Fyffe. "Beginning with a few in-person activities (such as Bingo and Loteria) with seniors is one step forward to fully reopening.”

The ten re-opening senior centers will operate from 9 a.m. to noon, either Tuesdays or Thursdays based on the schedule below:

Open Tuesdays

  • Pavo Real, 9311 Alameda San Juan, 5701 Tamburo
  • Happiness, 563 N. Carolina Grandview, 3134 Jefferson
  • Hilos de Plata, 4451 Delta Wellington Chew, 4430 Maxwell
  • Eastside, 3200 Fierro Polly Harris, 650 Wallenberg
  • Memorial, 1800 Byron South El Paso, 600 S. Ochoa

Open Thursdays

  • San Juan, 5701 Tamburo
  • Grandview, 3134 Jefferson
  • Wellington Chew, 4430 Maxwell
  • Polly Harris, 650 Wallenberg
  • South El Paso, 600 S. Ochoa

ORIGINAL REPORT, June 9: 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.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Stephanie Valle

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

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the former Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.


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