coronavirus covid-19

USPS Statement on Coronavirus

The United States Postal Service is proud of the work our more than 600,000 employees play in processing, transporting, and delivering mail and packages for the American public. We provide a vital public service that is a part of this nation’s critical infrastructure. The Postal Service has a dedicated Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Command Response leadership team that is focusing on employee and customer safety in conjunction with operational and business continuity during this unprecedented epidemic. We continue to follow the strategies and measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

To reduce health risks for our employees and customers and to safeguard our operational and business continuity, the Postal Service is doing the following:

  • Ensuring millions of masks, gloves and cleaning and sanitizing product are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day through our Postal Service supply chain. We also have opened up local purchasing authorities and sourcing options so that our employees can access additional supplies within the communities they serve.   We have expanded our national sourcing of supplies and services to ensure that increasing demands are met.
  • Reinforcing workplace behaviors to ensure that contact among our employees and with our customers reflects the best guidance regarding healthy interactions, social distancing, and risk minimization.  We have implemented measures at retail facilities and mail processing facilities to ensure appropriate social distancing, including through signage, floor tape, and “cough/sneeze” barriers.  We have changed delivery procedures to eliminate the requirement that customers sign our Mobile Delivery Devices for delivery.  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.
  • Updated our cleaning policies to ensure that all cleaning occurs in a manner consistent with CDC guidance relating to this pandemic.
  • Updated our leave policies to allow liberal use of leave and to therefore give our employees the ability to stay home whenever they feel sick, must provide dependent care, or any other qualifying factor under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  We have entered into agreements with our unions to provide 80 hours of paid leave to non-career employees for issues related to COVID-19, and have expanded the definition of sick leave for dependent care for covered employees to deal with the closures of primary and secondary schools across the country.
  • Expanded the use of telework for those employees who are able to perform their jobs remotely.
  • Issuing a daily cadence of employee talks, articles, videos, and other communications to ensure employees have the latest information and guidance.
  • Leveraging localized continuity of operations plans that can be employed in the case of emergencies to help ensure that the nation’s postal system continues to function for the American people.  With a longstanding history of quickly adapting its operational plans to changing conditions, the Postal Service maintains steady communications with mailers during natural disasters or other events that require emergency responses and advises residential customers and business mailers with regard to postal facility disruptions that may impact delivery in an affected area via its USPS Service Alerts webpage at: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts/.

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. The statute that created the Postal Service begins with the following sentence: “The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by an Act of Congress, and supported by the people.”  39 U.S.C. §101(a).

Importantly, the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html), the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses), as well as the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

Specifically, 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.” And according to the CDC, “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.”

How coronavirus could be the ‘final straw’ for the U.S Postal Service

Ben Werschkul

DC Producer
Yahoo Finance
A U.S.Postal Service worker wears a face mask and gloves while delivering mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The U.S. Postal Service has been in trouble for some time. Now, the coronavirus crisis has come along and made everything much worse.

Mail volume (and the accompanying revenue) could be down 50% this year, according to some estimates. The already teetering Postal Service could run out of money soon. That fear, combined with widespread concerns about letter carriers exposed to the virus, has put some lawmakers into a fatalistic mindset.LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 24: A U.S.Postal Service worker wears a face mask and gloves while crossing a downtown street as the coronavirus pandemic continues on March 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a ‘stay at home’ order for California’s 40 million residents in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) put it bluntly: “We need to start thinking in those apocalyptic terms,” he said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Tuesday, “because we are about to face the apocalypse.”

The current crisis is “in many ways the final straw,” said Connolly, who is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service. He believes that without some sort of intervention it will run out of cash in June.

‘There’s a growing anxiety’

Questions of safety are now dogging the service. “There’s a growing anxiety that they’re at risk and that there’s not sufficient resources to protect them even in the most minimal of ways like hand sanitizers or gloves or the like,” Connolly said.

Two weeks ago, ProPublica published a report saying that some postal employees were continuing to work after displaying COVID-19 symptoms, and seemingly healthy employees had insufficient protection against the virus.

Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan responded to some of the concerns on Wednesday during a Board of Governors session. “We are promoting healthy behaviors and protocols and encouraging any employee who feels sick to stay home,” she said. “In order to further encourage this behavior, we have updated our leave policies to allow liberal use of leave.”

Brennan also acknowledged some supply problems in the recent past saying, “we are continuing to work to overcome gaps in the supply chain to insure that our employees have access to hand sanitizer masks and gloves.”

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., talks to reporters as he leaves a closed door meeting where Catherine Croft, a State Department adviser on Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Wednesday Oct. 30, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), talks to reporters on Capitol Hill. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

But questions are likely to keep coming. Sen. Cory Booker and other New Jersey Democrats wrote a letter to Postmaster General Brennan last week expressing a series of concerns and questions. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders sent another letter raising similar questions.

Bernie Sanders

@SenSanders

Our postal workers already had one of the most important jobs in America.

Now they are putting themselves at risk to deliver everything our country needs.

I am asking the Postal Service to do much, much more to protect their safety and wellbeing right now.

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A spokesperson for Booker told Yahoo Finance that his office has not received an answer but remains hopeful that we can work with the service “to implement stronger workplace protections for the safety and well-being of USPS employees as well as the millions of Americans who depend on their services.”

“The health and well-being of our employees is always our first thought in facing the COVID challenge,” the Postmaster General said on Wednesday. She also underlined that the CDC, WHO, and Surgeon General all “have all said that there is very low risk that this virus is spread through mail which should be a comfort to us all and to the public.”

Connolly agreed the risk of transmission via mail is low, but “if we made sure that all of our postal workers had access to hand sanitizers and gloves, we could come close to eliminating the risk.” A lack of guidance or protection for letter carriers “is very imprudent and puts people at some risk. Not a high risk, but a risk.”

The USPS has made one change: it no longer requires customer signatures. Letter carriers will instead – from a distance – request the customer’s information and enter it themselves.

‘They’re going to run out of cash in June’

The USPS operates as a self-supporting, independent federal agency – sort of halfway between an independent business and a government agency. It likes to tout that the service “receives no tax dollars,” instead paying for itself from the sale of postage, products and services.

A Hollywood postal worker, dressed in protective mask and gloves, delivers the mail in Hollywood on Friday March 20th.. (Photo by Stephen Albanese/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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A postal worker in Los Angeles. (Stephen Albanese/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

During the phase 3 negotiations, Connolly and other House Democrats proposed changing that by eliminating outstanding debt and allotting $25 billion to further shore up USPS finances. They even wrote a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell “to seek your urgent help.”

They also want to repeal a mandate imposed in the Postal Act of 2006, which they say denies the USPS a chance to be profitable, arguing that the rule requires the Postal Service to pre-fund retirement health benefits for its employees. It’s a financial burden that puts “the Postal Service in a straight jacket,” according to Connolly, and has been the focus of repeal attempts for years.

The push didn’t work. The final package, signed into law by President Trump last Friday, included $10 billion in additional borrowing authority with strings attached.

The National Association of Letter Carriers, a union representing postal employees, responded: “That is woefully inadequate.”

Connolly says that some of the conditions on the $10 billion (including more of a Treasury role in management) was “an unacceptable condition for everybody,” and he still sees the USPS going out of business within months if nothing is done.

Then USPS and ‘Phase 4’ negotiations

The Postal Service has been gradually shrinking for years as outfits like UPS and Fedex Express (not to mention email) encroach further on its business. Total mail volume has shrunk from 170.9 billion pieces of mail in 2010 to 146.4 billion in 2018.

Yet advocates note the USPS still serves important functions, from delivering prescription drugs to Social Security checks. It also remains the only option in some rural areas where; as the National Association of Letter Carriers points out, “private companies rely on the USPS for last-mile delivery.”

Coronavirus cases are still on the rise. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

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Coronavirus cases are still on the rise. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

The USPS is also how millions of Americans who don’t have direct deposit information on file with the IRS will receive their $1,200 stimulus checks.

And then there’s perhaps the most politically fraught factor: “We’re also counting on the Postal Service to save our election process,” Connolly said amid questions about whether November’s elections will need to be done through the mail given concerns about voting in person. “What if there’s no Postal Service?” he said. ”Well, that could affect the outcome of an election.”

Trump has not discussed the Postal Service at length since the coronavirus crisis began. On March 23 he thanked “the hardworking men and women of Federal Express, UPS, the United States Postal Service, and the truckers who are maintaining our supply chains and supply lines.”

But Connolly claims that, behind the scenes, Trump himself was instrumental in killing aid to the USPS. He said Trump personally axed direct aid to the service. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “said this came directly from Trump and she has reiterated that more than once,” Connolly said.

The White House did not offer comment on Connolly’s claim.

On Tuesday, during an appearance on MSNBC, Pelosi reiterated that Postal Service funding is crucial in a phase 4 deal largely to keep voting by mail as a viable option.

“I’m going to continue like a dog and a bone on this issue,” said Connolly, “because we won’t appreciate the criticality of it until the worst happens, and I’m trying to prevent the worst from happening.”

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