When Paradise Valley Estates became a deployment site for a self-driving vehicle in 2019, the plan was to allow residents of the Fairfield, CA, continuing care retirement community to reserve or schedule rides to on-campus locations.

The role of the Optimus Ride expanded with the onset of COVID-19, however, with the self-driving vehicles providing low-contact meal and package delivery to the more than 500 residents of the 80-acre, not-for-profit life plan community.

In early March, Optimus Ride, a Boston-based self-driving vehicle technology company, was completing phase one of its point-to-point mobility services pilot within the gated community and was on track to begin phase two to serve the entire campus by the end of May.

But COVID-19 interrupted those plans when Paradise Valley Estates instituted a campus-wide stay-at-home policy on March 18. The community closed its dining halls, a cafe and the community center post office. At the same time, Optimus Ride paused passenger access at all of its sites.

When the CCRC’s dining services team coordinated a fleet of golf carts to begin meal delivery to residents’ homes, Optimus Ride saw an opportunity to pivot its services to supplement the delivery fleet. To date, Optimus Ride has delivered more than 3,200 meals to residents’ homes and now assists with home delivery of packages.

Paradise Valley Estates CEO Kevin Burke said that completing a major shift in services within 24 hours during a global health crisis was no small feat.

“Our partnership with Optimus Ride is about more than providing self-driving vehicles to our community,” Burke said in a statement. “They share our commitment to resident safety and wellness and have made it evident day after day by pitching in and helping us provide top-notch services for the people who call our community home.”

Optimus Ride plans to continue delivery services to Paradise Valley Estates residents as long as needed. When campus dining halls and common areas reopen, the company will resume passenger access with the eventual goal of expanding services to the entire campus.

“As COVID-19 started to accelerate, Optimus Ride exercised the flexibility in our self-driving vehicle systems to quickly shift to delivering meals to the entire population within Paradise Valley Estates,” said Ryan Chin, CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride. “As the pandemic subsides, self-driving logistics will be an increasingly important service in life plan communities across the U.S. and beyond.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • The Mississippi State Health Department will start naming the long-term care facilities that have COVID-19 outbreaks, following a recent court ruling.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has ordered mandatory testing of all staff and residents at assisted living communities, residential communities for the elderly and nursing homes just as the state becomes the first in the nation to conduct a broad study to attempt to determine how widespread the virus is there. The governor’s action drew praise from the state’s two long-term care associations, LeadingAge Connecticut and the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.
  • An assisted living community in the center of the capital city of Connecticut — one of the hardest hits states — remains COVID-19-free. The Retreat sits across the street from Harvard Hospital, which is treating dozens of people with coronavirus.
  • As Iowa reopens, long-term care facilities remain locked down. Several senior living professionals explain the wisdom behind the closures.
  • Local health experts and senior living and care providers are asking Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to allow some lifting of restrictions to help residents regain some sense of social normalcy and combat loneliness.
  • A pre-COVID-19 poll of older adults hints at the potential impact of the pandemic on eating habits.
  • Following media reports detailing a scathing letter reportedly from state employees detailing “shortcomings” in New Jersey’s response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, a Republican state senator is calling on the federal government to take control of the state’s long-term care facilities.
  • COVID-19 reveals fatal infection prevention flaws at long-term care facilities, according to an infection prevention consultant.
  • The moments before one closes his eyes forever should feel very similar to the moments when he opens them for the first time. A clinical expert shares words of solidarity on caring for residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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