The perils of the Pony Express pale in comparison to the new panic that could be unleashed by your postman.
As America observes the 160-year anniversary this week of its first attempt to connect the nation from sea to shining sea, everyone is fretting about a sinister danger that could be lurking in their mailboxes.
The United States Postal Service has withstood financial woes and public criticism of its snail mail service, but COVID-19 has the USPS in its crosshairs. Even with $20 billion earmarked for USPS in the $2.2 trillion relief bill, the real nitty gritty of actually delivering the mail is the tip of the spear of the crisis.
The pandemic has forced shut-downs and is keeping people locked in their homes. Now, going out, for most, really just means a trip to the mailbox.
But as postal workers across the nation are testing positive for the Corona Virus, fears of infecting the public have caused concerns that the Postal Service might not survive.
To reduce health risks to employees and customers, the USPS is ensuring millions of masks, gloves and cleaning supplies are being distributed to more than 3,000 postal locations through the Postal Service supply chain. The organization follows the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and a daily cadence of employee talks, articles and videos keeps employees abreast of changing guidance and communications.
The Postal Service is in constant communication with the CDC. “The Postal Service is taking this health threat seriously, but we also intend to act calmly and consistently based upon the advice of medical and public health professionals,” Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said earlier this week.
By last week, 51 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). That number has since jumped to 85. Nearly 2,000 of the entity’s half a million employees are in quarantine.
“As the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases have increased throughout the general public, so too have been the number of postal employees who have tested positive,” union president Fredric Rolando said in a statement. “About half of the postal employees are quarantined by order of public health officials and half have chosen to self-quarantine.”
Urban hotspots are not the only areas suffering the infection. In some small towns, such as Ringgold, GA, near Chattanooga, the postmaster got sick and people are wondering whether they should open their mail or not.
In a Facebook post regarding Catoosa County’s first confirmed case, Ringgold Mayor Nick Millwood confirmed it. “I spoke to the young man, and he confirmed he tested positive,” Millwood said in his post. “I anticipate it will show up in the official numbers soon. He said his parents [one who works at the local post office] are sick too, but they haven’t been tested yet. This is an exceptional young man, and he’s working to raise awareness.”
With the breaking news that the pandemic has reached their doorstep, local postal workers met in the parking lot after work that evening to discuss their options regarding their health and safety.
Paul Hogrogian, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, said: “Employees who do not feel safe working in the facility may be allowed to take emergency annual leave or leave without pay, to the extent feasible.” The union boss quoted the USPS as saying, “The Postal Service will follow a liberal leave usage policy for employees.”
The Corona Virus has impacted postal operations from corporate offices in Washington, DC to area distribution centers and local postal offices all the way to St. Joseph, MO, the home of The Pony Express Museum. And, yes, the museum is closed.