No Meals on Wheels after kitchen worker tests positive

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LOWELL — Following a positive COVID-19 test, Elder Services of Merrimack Valley suspended meal delivery through its Meals on Wheels program Tuesday.

In lieu of typical services, the organization started delivering a pack of seven frozen meals to each of its 2,800 clients on Wednesday, according to Jennifer Raymond, chief strategy officer for Elder Services of Merrimack Valley, or ESMV.

These deliveries are expected to continue on Thursday and Friday with all clients served by the end of the week.

“We have enough of the emergency meals to get through this week and the week after that the kitchen should be cleared,” she said.

Volunteers for the service typically deliver prepared meals every weekday to clients.

The program serves 28 communities including including Lowell, Billerica, Dracut, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford.

Over 400 people in Lowell receive daily meals.

Debra Siriani, director of human services at the Chelmsford Senior Center said Chelmsford has an independent Meals on Wheels program and was not impacted by the issue at ESMV.

The Andover Board of Health recommended TRIO Community Meals, the primary meal provider for the program, temporarily shut down after an employee of the kitchen tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from ESMV Chief Executive Officer Joan Hatem Roy.

Roy said the employee was using appropriate protective equipment. Elder Services stopped delivering meals from the kitchen out of “an abundance of caution,” she said.

According to Raymond, the employee was not involved in food preparation and there is no evidence COVID-19 is spread through food. The facility is being cleaned before reopening, she said.

Additionally, Donna Doran, director of marketing for TRIO Community Meals, said the company asked all employees in the unit to undergo testing for COVID-19. The employees were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks and will not be allowed to return to work without negative results and a medical release, she said.

Raymond said clients previously received enough frozen or shelf-stable food for 11 meals in case of such a closure. The frozen meals being delivered to clients this week were prepared in advance by the now-closed kitchen.

“In addition, ESMV staff are connecting with all consumers to determine if they have additional food needs before their next delivery arrives,” according to the statement.

In March, shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Raymond said the ESMV was seeing increased demand in home-delivered meals as the mobility of clients, many of whom are seniors, decreased.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan announced $1.4 million in federal funding to ESMV through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living. The funding is meant to help the organization participate in a regionwide New England network for the “delivery and sustainability of evidence-based chronic disease programs.”