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Meals on Wheels of Tampa takes cautions as coronavirus spreads

The Tampa meal delivery program caters to the exact population most at risk of coronavirus

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Every weekday, a fleet of vans travel to about 850 elderly and homebound residents in the Tampa Bay area, bringing hot meals and companionship.

Executives at Meals on Wheels of Tampa are working to make sure that’s the only thing they bring -- instead of risking infecting the vulnerable population with coronavirus.

The virus, also known as COVID-19, puts older people at a higher risk of death. Those with existing health issues are also more vulnerable. In other words, the Meals on Wheels target population.

“We’re all doing the things we can do to make sure this thing doesn’t impact those we serve,” said Steve King, the executive director of Meals on Wheels of Tampa.

King said they’ve sent out newsletters and emails to volunteers encouraging them to practice proper hygiene standards.

There have been three positive cases of coronavirus in the Tampa Bay area.

The organization is also preparing for what may happen if one of the people they deliver to has to be put in a 14-day-long quarantine or isolation. Normally, households along the route get a hot lunch meal, and two frozen meals on Friday to last through the weekend.

But the service is preparing multi-day food packs that could help people still get the nutrients they need.

“In the event that somebody couldn’t receive meals we still want to be able to provide them with good healthy food for however many days it is,” King said.

No state has a higher share of residents in their 70s and 80s than Florida. For patients in their 80s, the coronavirus death rate is six times as high as the normal 2.3 percent. For patients in their 70s, the fatality rate was four times as high.

Along with monitoring volunteers, Meals on Wheels of Tampa is also putting extra vigor into cleaning the vans, food bags and other supplies they use daily.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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