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March 23, 2020 10:45 AM, EDT

Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and Amazon Put Safety First

A worker sorts packages at the USPS Merrifield processing and distribution center in Virginia in December 2018.A worker sorts packages at the USPS Merrifield processing and distribution center in Virginia in December 2018. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the U.S., more people are relying on the mail and delivery services to provide them food, medicine and household items.

At a time people are social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19, could you contract the virus from deliveries to your home? And are steps being taken to protect the U.S. Postal Service and shipping carrier employees who are staffing massive warehouses and making those deliveries?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have each concluded the risk of contracting the coronavirus from mail or packages is low. The CDC said coronaviruses generally spread through respiratory droplets.

“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” the CDC said.

A preliminary study released last week found that COVID-19 could live up to 24 hours on cardboard and three days on plastic or stainless steel. It’s not clear how long the virus can survive on paper. The study has not been peer-reviewed, meaning that other experts have not yet had the chance to check the quality of the research.

The Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon have all announced measures to protect their employees and customers amid the coronavirus threat. They range from basic precautions, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands and regularly disinfecting workplaces and equipment, to additional steps like limiting some shipments and eliminating signature requirements for some deliveries.

Postal Service

The federal government deemed the U.S. Postal Service an essential service under any quarantine or shelter-in-place orders because it delivers medication, Social Security payments and other necessary mail and packages. It will continue to make deliveries with some service changes.

The Postal Service said in a statement March 17 that it had so far experienced only “minor operational impacts” due to the pandemic.

On Feb. 10, the Postal Service suspended Priority Mail Express International shipments to China and Hong Kong due to airline cancellations and other restrictions. Customers may see delays in mail and packages to and from China and European counties subject to air travel restrictions.

A Postal Service spokeswoman said March 20 that there are currently no changes to domestic overnight delivery.

Employees load packages into a shipping container at a UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 28.

Employees load packages into a shipping container at a UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 28. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

UPS

UPS has implemented several changes, such as changing the format of daily meetings at its facilities, staggering employees’ start times and increasing the distance between employees’ work stations, a company spokesman said.

UPS facilities stock 60 days worth of supplies of soap, paper towels, toilet paper and other hygiene products, the spokesman said.

The company regularly sanitizes surfaces at its facilities and its delivery vehicles, with emphasis on interiors and frequent exterior touchpoints like door handles. Drivers delivering to healthcare and other assisted living facilities get face masks and gloves.

UPS is temporarily adjusting its signature guidelines so that many deliveries will not require a recipient to sign. If delivery does require a signature, UPS has implemented a policy to maintain social distancing and not share a pen with the recipient, the spokesman said. He did not provide specific details of the signature policy.

UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 2 on the Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies.

FedEx

FedEx is temporarily suspending most signature requirements for FedEx Express and FedEx Ground deliveries in the U.S. and Canada. It’s also suspended signature requirements for FedEx Freight operations in the U.S., same-day service, and at FedEx Office stores and on-site locations at various U.S. retailers.

“This change is meant to help protect our couriers, drivers and customers by preventing exchange of the signature equipment and keeping them at a safe distance from each other consistent with social-distancing guidelines from the WHO,” a FedEx spokeswoman said in a statement.

FedEx is also adjusting delivery commitments for certain impacted areas. Service alerts are available on the company’s website.

The company ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics for-hire list, and No. 11 for logistics.

Amazon

Amazon temporarily suspended the shipment of nonessential items to its facilities and has been prioritizing household goods, medical supplies and other high-demand products through April 5. Customers can still order nonessential goods that are already in stock at its warehouses.

Customers ordering from Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market can choose “unattended delivery” during checkout and have their items dropped off at a specified location to reduce person-to-person contact, the company said. The option does not apply to orders containing alcohol.

Amazon also announced plans to hire 100,000 full- and part-time employees across the U.S. in response to the increased demand. The company is also increasing employees’ hourly pay by $2 through April.

Any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay, Amazon said.

Amazon also says it has increased cleanings at all of its facilities, including regular sanitizing of door handles, stairway railings, elevator buttons, lockers and touch screens.

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