Vashon Senior Center closes — for now — over concern for coronavirus

While there’s no confirmed case of COVID-19, the facility says it’s following pubic health guidelines

The Vashon Senior Center announced on Thursday would shut its doors immediately and be closed for the “foreseeable future” due to concerns of spreading coronavirus to the island’s elderly population and others.

The center’s executive director, Catherine Swearingen, provided that statement to The Beachcomber early afternoon, adding that the facility is “undergoing sanitation and disinfection procedures.”

“We are concerned about exposing vulnerable seniors and others to the COVID-19 virus and are following the recommendations of the Seattle/King County Public Health Department,” Swearingen said. “I would like to reiterate that we have no confirmed cases of the virus but are taking this step out of an abundance of caution.”

In an interview via email, she wrote that she is not sure when the center will be open again.

“The Center will continue to monitor the situation daily and will reopen when it is safe to do so,” Swearingen wrote. “”The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly, and we will follow the recommendations and guidelines of the county, CDC, and other authorities. We are looking forward to the time when we can all gather together in good health.”

She said the decision to close started being considered earlier this week and was made “after careful review of information and recommendations to reduce the risk of infection” published by King County and the Washington State Department of Health.

In her prepared statement, Swearingen said there will be no lunch at the center on March 6. Staff will meet this coming Monday, she said, to discuss how to get meals to seniors and provide other services in light of the facility’s closure.

“The staff will be meeting on Monday to map out the logistics of providing services to seniors who rely on us for food, how to safely continue our Bluebird Medical Transportation program and Neighbor2Neighbor services, how best to stay in contact should anyone need assistance, how to serve as a resource for updated information on the virus, and exploring ways to adapt and connect seniors virtually,” Swearingen said in an email to The Beachcomber. “Staff have been given the option of working from home, including participating in meetings by telephone.”

She also told the newspaper that the King County Department of Community and Human Services contacted the Vashon Senior Center and offered support for using VSHSL funds to “adjust our approach to serving the nutritional needs of older adults over the coming weeks.”

“We are in communication with them and appreciate their concern for the health of the community,” Swearingen wrote.

The center’s closure will impact not only regular programming, but other groups that use the building, she said.

“We are notifying as many people as we can, but please share this information with your friends and neighbors,” she said. “We regret having to make this decision but feel that the health of our community requires this unprecedented step. Meanwhile, please wash your hands, stay home if you aren’t feeling well, and take good care of yourselves and loved ones.”

Swearingen’s comments come after Public Health – Seattle & King County — which has been providing daily updates to communities in King County on the number confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths — put out a number of recommendations communities can take to keep themselves safe from contracting or spreading coronavirus.

One of the recommendations that Swearingen cited is that “organizations and individuals prepare now in order to reduce the number of illnesses and negative effects that could occur in our community, including avoid bringing large groups of people together, consider postponing events and gatherings.”

One of the other recommendations she said was helpful, too, was that people 60 or older with underlying health conditions should “stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible, including public places with lots of people and large gatherings where there will be close contact with others.”

On March 5, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported 20 additional cases, bringing the total number to 51, including 10 deaths.

This story was updated on March 6 to include further comments from the Vashon Senior Center’s executive director.