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Postal Workers Say USPS Isn’t Telling Them When Colleagues Test Positive for COVID-19, Despite Promising To

The CDC says people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine. Many postal workers say they have no way of knowing if that’s them.

A U.S. Postal Service employee delivers mail in Van Nuys, California, on Thursday. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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The U.S. Postal Service appears to be continuing its checkered response to the coronavirus. Workers across the country say they’re not being informed when colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19, despite a Postal Service policy to do so.

At the end of March, after workers complained, the Postal Service told its employees they would be notified if someone “in your workplace is confirmed to have COVID-19.”

But workers at 11 locations told ProPublica they found out about cases through colleagues or were only told by management days after word had already gotten out.

“People are scared because management has stopped communicating,” said David Denton, a mail handler at a Long Island processing plant. “We have a right to know from management exactly how many cases are confirmed in the building.” Denton said he’s heard of several positive cases at his location, but employees haven’t been told anything by management.

Three letter carriers in New Haven, Connecticut, said they only heard through co-workers — not management — that a colleague had the coronavirus. Their local union president, Vincent Mase, confirmed to ProPublica that one employee at their location had tested positive.

And a letter carrier in New Orleans who tested positive said his supervisor didn’t ask whom he had been in contact with until five days after the worker had raised it. An employee who had been in close contact with him said he didn’t receive any notification from management.

Some post offices are following through on the new policy. Managers at a post office in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, told employees when one of their colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus, asked those who were in close contact with him to quarantine and closed the site for cleaning.

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said employees at postal facilities are being notified about cases in their facilities. He did not comment on workers saying that hasn’t happened.

Eleanor Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, said that people who have been in close contact or shared objects with someone who has the coronavirus should be quarantined for 14 days.

“If someone in the workplace has tested positive, then there’s a good chance that at least a couple other people have been infected already even if they don’t feel sick,” she said. “Since we still don’t have great testing capacity, if you’ve been in direct contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms but hasn’t been tested, then it’s a good idea to quarantine.”

The continued concerns come as the Postal Service nears potential financial collapse. The head of the agency told Congress last week that the agency will run out of money by September. The president rejected a bailout for the agency proposed by lawmakers in the $2 trillion stimulus.

The Postal Service announced its notification policy and other protections for workers after thousands of employees signed a petition for a safer workplace and ProPublica and other outlets reported letter carriers’ concerns over lack of protective equipment and being pressured to work despite having symptoms.

Senators recently wrote to Postmaster General Megan Brennan demanding answers about how the agency is protecting its workers. The Postal Service sent a five-page response outlining its efforts to implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

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Portrait of Maryam Jameel

Maryam Jameel

Maryam Jameel is an engagement reporter working on community-sourced investigations out of ProPublica’s Washington, D.C. newsroom.

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