On-site meals suspended due to Covid-19 health crisis.
It is my hope that this letter finds you in good health. When we closed on March 16 of this year we thought that it would only be a two week temporary closing for your safety and well-being, and for that of our staff, as the COVID-19 virus spiked and went away. Those two weeks have now stretched into 14 and we are still dealing with the consequences of this health crisis and its unwelcome intrusion upon our daily lives. To state the obvious, COVID-19 has forever changed the way things are and going back to “normal”, as we once defined it, will not be possible for some time.
During the past 14 weeks I have given a great deal of consideration to the facts presented by medical science experts concerning the COVID-19 virus, and have carefully assessed the risks verses the rewards of attempting to reopen the congregate meal program under the mandated restrictions at this time. In the Federal Guidelines for Opening up America Again, “venerable individuals” are defined as “elderly individuals and people with serious underlying health conditions”. The CDC further defines these high-risk persons as adults 65 years of age and older, especially those with underlying health issues like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart, kidney and lung disease, asthma, and others whose immune systems are weakened due to medications or ongoing medical treatments. Friends, these definitions accurately describe the older adult population we serve in our nutrition program.
The fact that we serve an at-risk older adult population and that COVID-19 is predominantly spread through person to person contact increases the risks and challenges of operating traditional congregate nutrition sites at this time. The daily recording and reporting of compliance monitoring, regulating and enforcing physical distancing guidelines and strict adherence to safety protocols like wearing masks, gloves and the thorough and regular sanitizing of surfaces (doors, tables, chairs, kitchen areas, restrooms) necessary to resume and maintain safe operations in a congregate setting would require more physically and financially than we could manage. In addition, the insurance liability issues that COVID-19 presents further complicates reopening nutrition sites at this time.
This is the most serious and difficult challenge I have faced in my 20 years as director of this agency and it is my responsibility to implement what I believe to be the necessary steps for ensuring the safety of the senior citizens who participate in the congregate meal program and our employees who serve them. Until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available we must err on the side of protection and not risk infection for our seniors and staff.
Therefore, after consulting with our Board of Directors, I will be closing all nutrition sites and the Lakewood offices indefinitely.
Friends, I wish there was something I could say to make this easier. This is the most difficult letter I have ever had to write. We know how much this program, your friends and the nutrition site staff mean to you. We feel the same way about you. We have shared and celebrated life’s events, laughed together, shouldered each other’s hardships and concerns, joined in meaningful activities and enjoyed many nutritious meals in the company of our friends. For you, the times we shared and all our fond memories we will forever be grateful and blessed.
Even though the COVID-19 health crisis has interrupted our lives it doesn’t have to keep us from connecting with our friends and loved ones in ways equally as meaningful and fulfilling as when we gathered together at the nutrition site. We have an opportunity to make today the start of a new beginning, a new direction, to learn and to discover new ways to engage with each other so that we can remain safe within our home environments and communities. COVID-19 can’t take away the fond memories of our yesterday, or stop us from creating new and cherished memories tomorrow, unless we let it!
We are currently exploring innovative approaches to providing Congregate Nutrition Sites through the use of social media platforms. As soon as we have the necessary resources and tools in place we will be reaching out to invite you to be a part of the new congregate experience. I cannot estimate when this will be, but we are actively working with our community partners to accomplish this transformation as soon as possible.
Hopefully, soon, the time will come when civic, municipal, national and private organizations throughout Ocean County will be able to fully open their doors and meeting spaces to congregate gatherings. When that time comes we will support those organizations and assist them in forming nutrition centers where we can once again gather, enjoy each other’s company and share a hot, nutritious meal together.
In the meantime, it is my hope and prayer that you will remain safe, in good health and continue to socialize responsibly. Thank you for your understanding.
James G. Sigurdson