(Photo by Inigo De la Maza via Unsplash)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a partnership Friday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and restaurants across the state to provide and deliver healthy meals to seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Through the partnership, restaurants and other businesses in the state’s hospitality industry will provide three meals per day to qualifying seniors, enabling them to hire, retain and pay workers despite shuttering for normal business due to state and local shelter-in-place orders.

FEMA will partially reimburse up to $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch and $28 for dinner for each senior in the meal delivery program, allowing a significant portion of the state’s 5.7 million seniors and 1.2 million seniors that live alone to eat healthy meals consistently. FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of all meal services while the state will cover three-quarters of the remaining 25 percent burden that would normally fall to county governments.

“It’s not just about the meals,” Newsom said. “It’s about a human connection. It’s about someone just checking in as they’re delivering those meals to make sure people are okay. So it extends a wellness narrative.”

The qualifications for seniors, other services

To qualify for the meal delivery program, seniors must be at high risk of contracting the coronavirus, must have an income of 600 percent less than the federal poverty line, must have already been exposed to the coronavirus or must have a compromised immune system. Eligible seniors can contact their local 211 call center or visit COVID19.ca.gov to sign up for the program, according to Newsom.

The state also announced the establishment of a hotline for lonely, isolated and anxious people. The California Friendship Line, 888-670-1360, will be staffed by the state’s Department of Aging, the nonprofit Institute of Aging, students at Sacramento State University focused on aging and genealogy and members of the state’s Emergency Response Teams.

Newsom said United Airlines also volunteered some of its call center workers to help reach out to lonely and anxious residents around the state, particularly isolated seniors. In total, the state has secured more than 1,000 new call takers and wellness check callers for the Friendship Line to ensure no one in California has to go through the pandemic alone.

“Loneliness is a terrible threat to our community and that’s why … all across the state, we’re up to 1.7 million calls that we can count,” said the Department of Aging Director Kim McCoy Wade. “And now with the Friendship Line, there’ll be even more calls, even more connection, even more human connection.”

Health officials around the state have confirmed a total of 39,254 coronavirus cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to Newsom (as of April 24). In addition, 1,216 people are in intensive care due to the virus and 3,344 are currently hospitalized across the state.