‘There’s nowhere to go’: Trumbull senior transportation down during COVID

Bill Schiappa raps on the Plexiglass shield that has been installed between the passengers and driver on a Trumbull Senior Center transportation van.

Bill Schiappa raps on the Plexiglass shield that has been installed between the passengers and driver on a Trumbull Senior Center transportation van.

Donald Eng / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — Local senior citizens concerned about the risk of using the town’s senior transportation program can breathe a little easier now that the air inside the vehicles is being continually scrubbed by ultraviolet light.

The UV-C filters are among the safety improvements that allowed the transit vans to resume limited service, according to Michele Jakab, the center’s director.

“With the COVID rules, you couldn’t even run the air conditioning in the vans during the summer because it just recirculates the air,” Jakab said. “So you had to just drive with the windows open. And on a transit van, the windows barely open for safety. It was brutal.”

The new UV-C filters, which Jakab says kill the coronavirus by exposing it to ultraviolet light, were purchased using COVID-19 grant money and installed by Public Works employees. In addition, the vans now have Plexiglass shields between the driver and the passengers and a new protocol limits riders to one person to a seat, every other seat.

“These are 14-person vans, and with the seat limits now you can only get four people on board,” said Bill Schiappa, one of the center’s two drivers.

Demand is down since the Senior Center at Priscilla Place has been closed since March. But seniors have gradually begun using the transit service again to go shopping or to doctor’s appointments, Schiappa said.

“It’s one or two at a time,” he said.

In normal times, he said, the town’s seniors kept four vans and drivers occupied all day.

“I would drive around and pick up 10, sometimes 12 people and bring them here to have lunch,” he said.

After dropping off the lunch diners, he and another driver would bring seniors to the supermarket or doctor’s appointments until it was time to make the rounds for dropoffs.

“They eat, play cards, do whatever they do, then around 2 we bring them home,” he said.

A third driver would operate a shuttle to Stern Village, the town’s senior citizen affordable housing facility, while a fourth drove other seniors on day trips to local attractions. With the COVID restrictions, though, the center was down to just two drivers and vans.

“The lunch (cafe) still isn’t open, the museums and things are closed,” he said. “There’s nowhere to go.”

Jakab also said she was hopeful the center’s lunch program would be able to resume soon. In the meantime, transport drivers are keeping busy running meal deliveries to some of the center’s regulars.

The transportation program, which is funded by state and federal grants, is open to all homebound residents age 60 and over and those over 55 with a disability. Rides are available to and from doctor appointments and to and from the grocery store.

All riders must be independent, but caregivers may accompany riders. The Senior Center does not provide assistance to and from the vehicle. All vans are equipped with a wheelchair lift. Service animals and assistive devices are welcome.

Senior Center Membership is not required but all riders must register with the office staff. There is no cost for transportation, but donations are accepted and can be mailed to: Trumbull Senior Center, 23 Priscilla Place, Trumbull, CT 06611. Call 203-452-5137 to schedule a ride.