A volunteer with Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills in Moore County drops off a cooler of food. Photo courtesy of Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills

As cases of the new coronavirus mount around the world and take root in North Carolina, those in charge of meal delivery services that help older North Carolinians are making plans for a worst-case scenario.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised older adults to “stay home as much as possible” during an outbreak.

That’s because COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is far more lethal to people over age 60 and “the highest risk for serious illness and death” for those age 80 and above, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Directors in charge of services for older adults throughout North Carolina say they are preparing for the eventual spread of the coronavirus to their counties.

COVID-19 NC news

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Ken Dye, the senior nutrition program director for Cumberland County Council on Older Adults. “That’s what we’re doing.”

One of the agency’s programs is Meals on Wheels of Cumberland County, which serves homebound adults. Dye said the program and several communal feeding sites serve 500 older adults per day.

Dye said the office has 180 volunteers, but during an outbreak, it may not be safe for them to visit at-risk clients daily.

To that end, on Thursday morning he ordered boxes of shelf-stable food for clients in case the office has to shut down.

The boxes of food include “soups and chilis, and crackers. Beanie Weenies,” Dye said. “They are not ideal things to eat every day, but when you are up against the wall, you do the best you can.”

He said regional leaders with Meals on Wheels are also trying to plan for the worst.

“Many of the people I’ve talked to, we are being proactive because we don’t know where this is going,” Dye said. “We don’t want to get caught shorthanded.”

Gov. Roy Cooper and other officials in a Thursday afternoon press conference said so far there is no evidence of community spread in North Carolina.

“We don’t have that yet and we expect it to come,” Cooper said Thursday.

He and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen urged the cancellation or postponement of gatherings with more than 100 people.

Symptoms for COVID-19 include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Though similar to the seasonal flu, the two are caused by different viruses.

Terri Prots, aging services director in Moore County’s Office on Aging, said she’s also looking into a five-day supply of food for the program’s 110 or so clients, which includes congregant meals as well as fresh home delivery of meals.

Her program also relies on volunteers, but many of them are also elderly, and it may not be safe for them to provide delivery of meals at the height of an outbreak.

“We have already talked to our caterer about the possibility of getting frozen meals and making a delivery once a week, taking five frozen meals at a time,” Prots said Thursday.

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Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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