Postal Service Workers Concerned for their Health Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Many postal service workers are growing increasingly concerned for their health and safety as they struggle to gain access to protective supplies like gloves and sanitizer.

According to one NPR article, the United States Postal Service is one of the biggest employers in the country—with some 500,000 employers alone. Many workers at the postal service say, however, that they are not receiving the training or supplies they need to deal safely with the coronavirus. They fear “becoming carrier of another kind”—catching and spreading the virus.

Like those working for Amazon or Whole Foods, their concerns are kept somewhat quiet for fear of retaliation. Still, they do not feel they have access to hygiene tools, especially when doing their mail routes.

“The management isn't giving us gloves. They're not providing hand sanitizer, and there's no place on the street for us to wash our hands every so often,” says Beth, a letter carrier in the Midwest, who has a lot of big apartment buildings on her route.

Beth says she fears that if she complains, she’ll be disciplined and maybe even lose her job. She also says the instructions she and her co-workers are receiving are not good enough: wash your hands and don’t come to work if you’re sick.

“In the Postal Service, basically if you call in like more than three days in a row, you get a letter of warning,” Beth says. She fears that unofficial policy could encourage sick workers to come in and spread the virus.

The Postal Service, though, has a different take. In an email to NPR, the Postal Service said the number of days an employee is absent has no direct correlation to discipline, and that employee safety is of top priority. It says it’s sharing the latest information with its workers—including flyers, videos, e-mails and talks about the virus—and that gloves and surgical masks are available upon request.

Still, workers say they are frustrated and not getting what they need. One USPS worker said they had a quickly diminishing supply of gloves, and they had no sanitizer or masks. “The 6-foot social distancing practice is a joke,” the worker wrote. “We have no room in the office to practice it.”

In addition to keeping their hands and faces clean, workers are wondering how long the virus lives on paper. The answer? No one really knows.

Global Health teacher Dr. Christopher Gill says there’s still a lot more to learn about how long the virus can live on certain surfaces. The latest evidence suggests it can remain on cardboard for up to 24 hours—but that comes from a “lab study,” not a real-world study.

The USPS says that according to the Surgeon General, the CDC and the World Health Organization, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. Still, Gill says, just to be safe, don’t lick your envelopes. “You should use some other method for doing that to avoid contaminating with your saliva.”

Many postal services workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many take pride in their work and want to help deliver the supplies and items people need, but they fear that puts them at risk for getting the virus or helping to spread it. Still, the mail must go out.

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