Approximately 2,000 United States Postal Workers are under self-quarantine at this point after possibly being exposed to COVID-19. According to the National Association of Letter Carriers around 60 have tested positive including a postal employee at the Coppell processing plant and one in Tyler at the main post office.
“The U.S. Postal Service has learned that an employee at the Tyler Main Post Office and the North Texas Processing and Distribution Center each tested positive for COVID-19,” said Carol Hunt, Strategic Communications Specialist for the Dallas and Louisiana Districts of USPS. “We are in the process of reaching out to the local public health offices and will follow the guidance they provide. We believe the risk is low for employees who work at both the Tyler Main Office and the North Texas Processing and Distribution Center, but we will keep our employees apprised as new information and guidance becomes available.”
With over 600,000 employees and almost everyone receiving mail from the USPS daily this essential industry is remaining open, but what is being done to protect them?
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and several other New Jersey delegates addressed Postmaster General Megan Brennan directly by letter.
“Any failure of the USPS to keep its workers safe not only puts their employees at risk, but also threatens each of the communities they serve,” he said.
Some workers are complaining that they do not have enough of the cleaning supplies needed to stay safe.
“The safety and well-being of our employees is our highest priority. To ensure the health of our employees, we are continuing to follow recommended guidance and strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Hunt said. “On the employee front, we are sharing the latest information throughout our organization via video, e-mail, internal newsletters, employee conversations and through our Operations and HR functions – and we will continue to do so. We are encouraging healthy behaviors and protocols including frequent hand washing, use of sanitizers, and additional cleaning of work spaces, and are encouraging any employee who feels they are sick to stay home. We are offering liberal leave and have worked with our postal unions to temporarily expand leave options for our employees.”
The CDC and the medical review suggest the virus can live up to five days on paper and 24 hours on cardboard boxes. What is being done to protect the customers?
“To reduce health risks, we also are temporarily modifying customer signature capture procedures,” Hunt said. “While maintaining a safe, appropriate distance, employees will request the customer’s first initial and last name so that the employee can enter the information on the electronic screen or hard copy items such as return receipts, PS Forms 3811 and 3829. For increased safety, employees will politely ask the customer to step back a safe distance or close the screen door/door so that they may leave the item in the mail receptacle or appropriate location by the customer door.”
Hunt also said USPS has a dedicated COVID-19 Command Response leadership team that is focusing on employee, operational, business, and customer continuity during this unprecedented epidemic.
“We continue to follow the strategies and measures recommended by the CDC and public health departments. The CDC has information available on its website at https://www.coronavirus.gov that provides the latest information about COVID-19.”
The USPS stated the CDC, World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General currently do not find evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.
According to the World Health Organization, “the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”
The CDC has said similar statements, “in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.”
As an essential industry for the nations infrastructure, the USPS also stated the following: “We are proud of the work our employees play in processing, transporting and delivering mail and packages for the American public, which is a vital public service that is a part of this nation’s critical infrastructure. The Postal Service delivers much needed medications and Social Security checks, and we are the leading delivery service for online purchases. The Postal Service is an essential service for purposes of compliance with state or municipality shelter-in-place orders or other social distancing restrictions.”
For those still concerned about mail transmitting the virus here are a few tips:
• Spray your mailbox and mail with disinfectant.
• Set mail aside for 24 hours, if it makes you feel more comfortable.
• Remove from exterior packaging and envelopes and dispose of outer packaging.
• Do not touch your face or other items in your home until you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
• With information evolving daily, and sometimes multiple times a day, it is best to be cautious but not fearful.