Entrepreneur and inventor Oliver Kuttner has been known to step up in a crisis. In 2005, he loaded the Starlight Express, a Charlottesville-New York luxury bus service he co-founded, and headed south with supplies to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi.
Now Kuttner has a plan to house those who are infected with COVID-19 and need a place to quarantine: a 157-acre industrial site he owns near Lynchburg and the James River. Initially he wanted to build small bungalows, but then he decided RVs with their own ventilation systems could house 7,000 people more safely than hotels or dormitories.
“I have the infrastructure ready,” he says. “I’m halfway there.” But it’s the second half of his $80-million vision that’s more challenging.
“It’s bigger than what I can do,” Kuttner says. “I’m not a health care provider.”
He wants a larger organization like FEMA, the Red Cross, or state government to partner with him for what he says is a very cost-effective way to isolate infected people. “I need someone to put their arms around me,” he says. “I have a plan to flatten the curve in central Virginia.”
And Kuttner, who lives part time in Germany, believes the U.S. is where Germany was seven weeks ago. He’s convinced that if he can’t get the RV park off the ground by April 10, it will be too late to make it happen before health care capacity in the Thomas Jefferson Health District is overwhelmed.
One person interested in a similar plan and who has met with Kuttner is Lockn organizer Dave Frey, who envisions putting campers at NASCAR racetracks. “I know where to get RVs,” says Frey.
“David has experience setting up a facility for thousands of people,” says Kuttner.
But so far, Kuttner says he’s gotten no response from FEMA or elected officials. FEMA referred C-VILLE to its how to help webpage, but did not answer whether the agency would get involved in a project like Kuttner’s.
And as the pandemic continues its exponential growth, Kuttner says, “I would not be surprised if [this plan] never flies.”
The RV retreat isn’t Kuttner’s only COVID-19 effort. On Friday, he said he’d just procured 49 ventilators from his connections in China and plans to offer them to New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has put out a plea for the respiratory equipment.
Kuttner, who won the $5-million 2010 International X Prize for his design of a 102-miles-per-gallon car, also has finished a prototype for a patient transport vehicle that has separate ventilation for the driver. “I may build 10 next week,” he says. “I’m not sitting at home playing Netflix,” he says of his 18-hour days.
“I think we have a huge disaster coming,” says Kuttner. “I hope I have egg on my face in the end, but from what I’ve read, I think we’re underestimating it.”