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Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor . . . Pandemic? Post Offices Carry On

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 10:37
The East Hampton Post Office and others nearby now have barriers hung in front of the customer service counter to help protect the employees.
Christine Sampson

A woman wearing a Jamaican flag around her face for protection. A post office lobby line at least eight people deep, each six feet apart, waiting for their turn at the counter. Folks dashing in and out as if the floor were hot lava, checking their postal boxes as quickly as they could. And people touching the doorknobs over and over and over with their bare hands because the doors weren’t propped open.

This was the scene at the East Hampton Post Office shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday. But perhaps the most striking part — and perhaps the most reassuring — were the big sheets of clear plastic draped in front of the service counter, forming a physical barrier between the clerks and the customers — a reminder of the new realities of the Covid-19 pandemic that has turned public spaces into dangerous places.

There were similar plastic tarpaulins put up this week at the Amagansett Post Office, and tall pieces of hard plexiglass nailed up at the counter at the Sag Harbor Post Office. The Sagaponack Post Office is handing out mail curbside. The East Hampton Post Office has even changed its weekday hours, instituting a one-hour closure between 1 and 2 p.m.

Customer complaints abound, particularly, on Monday in East Hampton, about the doorknobs. When queried about the issues, local postmasters said they were not permitted to give interviews.

But a regional United States Postal Service spokesman responded by email to questions this week, saying the official guidance to individual post offices is to reinforce “workplace behaviors [that] ensure that contact amongst 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,” said Xavier C. Hernandez, who handles media inquiries on Long Island and in Manhattan and the Bronx. “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.”

Nationally, the U.S. Postal Service has been busy “ensuring millions of masks, gloves, and cleaning and sanitizing products are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day,” Mr. Hernandez said. Cleaning is thorough and in line with guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control. Employees have benefited from additional paid sick leave “to give [them] 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.”

The C.D.C., World Health Organization, and U.S. surgeon general have all said there is no evidence that Covid-19 is being spread through the mail, and the National Institutes of Health reported the virus is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces.” It is very similar to SARS, the National Institutes of Health reported, which “was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”     

“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, which is a vital public service that is a part of this nation’s critical infrastructure,” Mr. Hernandez said. “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.”

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