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Around 2,000 U.S. Postal Service employees nationwide are in quarantine over concerns that they may have been exposed to coronavirus, and more than 60 have tested positive for the virus, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers and the Postal Service.
There are more than 630,000 Postal Service employees nationwide. Mail delivery is considered an essential service, so post offices remain open and letters and packages continue to be delivered even as other businesses shut down and residents stay at home.
But as the pandemic continues to spread, some postal workers say the don’t have enough of the cleaning supplies and sanitizers they need to work safely.
“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,” Sen. Cory Booker and 10 other Democratic members of the New Jersey congressional delegation recently wrote to Postmaster General Megan Brennan.
The lawmakers also echoed concerns from the letter carriers union that postal workers do not have the cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves needed in the office, in their vehicles and elsewhere.
“In some places, all of these things are being done,” union President Fredric Rolando said in a statement. “However, in too many places they are not.”
About half of the 2,000 quarantined employees were ordered to do so by public health officials, and the others are self-quarantining, the union said.
George Flood, a spokesman for the Postal Service’s Northeast area, said the Postal Service will respond directly to New Jersey lawmakers regarding their concerns and that the agency was working to keep its workers safe.
“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,” he said. “We are offering liberal leave and have worked with our postal unions to temporarily expand leave options for our employees.
But concerns about postal workers have led Fellowship Village in Basking Ridge, N.J., which serves more than 1,000 seniors, to stop mail deliveries after the Postal Service refused to let staff screen carriers.
“I cannot in good conscience allow somebody to come into your community and drop off mail that could be infected,” said Brian Lawrence, CEO of parent company Fellowship Senior Living.
“Would you want to expose your own parents or grandparents? I don’t think so,” he added.
Lawrence’s trade association, Leading Age, has joined other groups representing nursing homes and other senior living facilities, including the American Health Care Association and the American Seniors Association, to request that letter carriers be screened like all other visitors.
“That would help continuation of mail delivery as well as protect the possible transmission of COVID-19,” the groups wrote to Brennan.
The Postal Service has said that the mail itself is safe.
“There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail,” said Flood, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and the U.S. surgeon general.
At Fellowship Village, Lawrence said he still is trying to work out a solution with the Postal Service, which has refused to let its letter carriers undergo extra screening, including a temperature check and answering questions about whether they feel sick.
“We’re trying to protect over 1,000 lives,” Lawrence said. “Everyone is doing this screening. This is how you flatten the curve, protect people. This is for the safety of us all.”
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