Friday lunch delivery canceled due to positive COVID-19 employee; community steps in to provide meals over spring break
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Lunch delivery from the Steamboat Springs School District to students was suspended Friday because one of the district’s essential employees who works on the food preparation team tested positive for COVID-19.
That person is currently in isolation and recovering, according to Routt County health officials.
The district is “communicating necessary precautions for those who came in contact with the employee who has become ill,” according to a letter sent to families by Superintendent Brad Meeks. “County (Public Health) Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington has advised us that the exposure risk is thought to be low. If anyone in your family develops symptoms, please contact your primary care physician.”
While the district regrets not being able to deliver lunch, Meeks wrote, they are “acting in the best interest of our community in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
At this time, there is currently no evidence connecting the transmission of COVID-19 to food or food packaging, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
However the science is new, and there are still a lot of unknowns about how the virus can be transmitted.
Dr. Abinash Virk, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist, noted the risk of exposure from food is unknown but likely very low.
“The biggest risk of contracting the virus from food would be if you touch food that’s been exposed and then touch your face,” Virk said. “In that sense, it is best to wash your hands before and after handling food and washing unpeeled fruits and vegetables before you eat them.”
A big unknown that remains is how long the virus can live on various surfaces, but it is thought to be hours or days as opposed to weeks, like the norovirus.
As an “enveloped virus,” COVID-19 is a little bit more susceptible to heat, bleaching, drying and antiseptics.
“It is easier to kill than some other viruses,” Virk said. “So heating a vegetable or heating some food will inactivate the virus.”
When ordering takeout, Virk recommends washing hands before handling the containers, emptying the contents and then washing hands again before eating.
Based on available science, most experts are saying it is unlikely you would become infected by eating food with the virus but not impossible.
“If you eat food contaminated with the novel coronavirus, your stomach acid should inactivate the virus. Even if your stomach acid did not, there is no evidence that this virus can cause an infection through the gastrointestinal tract. Wash hands with soap and water before meals to minimize the risk of getting foodborne illnesses, in general,” according to the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network:
Next week, which is spring break for the Steamboat schools, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center will take over the school lunch delivery program. The pickup times and locations will be the same.
After hearing the school district would not be providing lunches to students during spring break, a substitute was quickly born of conversation between Karen Schneider, executive director of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation, and Mark Anderson, executive director of the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation.
Anderson took the lead on arranging pick up and delivery of the food from the hospital, with help from the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs, Partners in Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs.
At the hospital, Liz Wahl, YVMC’s food and nutrition services manager, embraced the idea and made the necessary accommodations on her end, also ensuring all health and preparation safety guidelines were being followed.
“We were thrilled that they stepped up to help out next week, so our staff can get a break,” Meeks said.
The school district, which has thus far delivered more than 7,100 meals during the pandemic, will resume providing lunches April 27.
“It’s incredible to see how quickly something like this can come together,” Schneider said. “For the last few weeks, our hospital staff and providers have been overwhelmed with the community’s outpouring of support. UCHealth is thrilled to be able to return that support to families and children in our community with the continuation of the healthy lunch program during spring break.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Freshman Xavier Knott loves going to school at Steamboat Springs High School.