Objective

Our objective was to assess the Postal Service’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak regarding the safety of its employees.

In March 2020, the president of the United States declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency; its impact to the nation’s health and safety has been unprecedented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 31, 2020, there were 4.5 million cases and 151,000 deaths in the U.S. Many states and communities shut down businesses, asked people to stay home, and prohibited gatherings to slow the spread of the virus. Even during the shutdowns, the Postal Service continued to deliver mail and packages to every address in the nation, every day.

To lead its pandemic response, the Postal Service created the COVID-19 Command Response Team at headquarters to ensure the agency followed directives and guidance from the CDC. The Postal Service implemented changes to slow the spread of the virus, manage and support affected employees, and ensure that recovered employees returned to work safely.

To slow the virus’s spread, the Postal Service required all employees to wear face coverings where a state or local mandate was in place and social distancing could not be achieved, requested customers to wear face coverings in all retail facilities, and established daily cleaning of the workroom floor and cleaning of frequently touched surfaces between tours. In addition, the Postal Service established a COVID-19 Supplies Command Center to monitor daily inventories in the field and identify facilities in need of essential supplies. This helped ensure millions of face coverings, gloves, and cleaning products were available to about 641,000 Postal Service employees working across 31,500 facilities. To identify employees with COVID-19 symptoms at work, the Postal Service also deployed a temperature-taking proof of concept test at four facilities in May 2020.

For employees who either contracted or were affected by the virus, the Postal Service allowed the use of liberal leave. It also established a Close Contact Tracing Program in April 2020 to outline safety protocols for identifying and quarantining employees who came into close contact with an infected person at work, as well as tracking employees with a positive COVID-19 test. The Postal Service’s nursing staff is responsible for conducting contact tracing to determine if any employees were in contact with an infected coworker. They also set return-to-work dates for employees after an exposure to or illness from COVID-19.

The Postal Service’s quick actions likely saved lives and certainly increased employee safety. Despite these efforts to contain COVID-19, 33,945 employees took leave to quarantine, 7,421 tested positive for the virus, and 80 died, as of July 31, 2020. The number of new, positive cases in the Postal Service steadily increased since the first confirmed case in February 2020 through the end of July 2020. Therefore, vigilance and additional precautions could help further protect employees.

Findings

While we recognize the challenges facing the Postal Service during the pandemic, we identified three areas where the Postal Service can better protect its employees: (1) face covering policy, (2) contact tracing program, and (3) employee health screening.

First, Postal Service employees did not always wear face coverings when proper social distancing could not be achieved. We visited 10 facilities, including five mail processing and five retail and delivery facilities, and observed employees at four retail and delivery facilities (40 percent) who did not adhere to the local face covering policy. In addition, during our review of camera footage, we observed 41 of 117 facilities (35 percent) with at least one employee not wearing a face covering where a local mandate required one, and while not social distancing.

These employees were behind the counter or in the back of a retail and delivery facility or on the workroom floor in a processing facility.

The Postal Service face covering policy at all facilities cited local or state mandates and when employees could not maintain social distancing in the workplace. However, facility management voiced confusion with the policy and interpreted it to mean that state and local directives determined whether employees were required to wear face coverings. Postal Service Headquarters considered the local requirements supplemental to the nationwide policy.

In addition, managers of offending employees were not always aware they could enforce the face covering policy. An enforcement process which includes engaging the union representative and taking appropriate action existed; however, it was not well-known or followed because it was only communicated verbally to some managers. The confusing face covering policy and its inconsistent enforcement put employees at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and potentially decreased employee availability.

Second, the Close Contact Tracing Program did not include an overarching program goal with associated metrics and did not ensure adequate staffing. Management indicated they did not establish goals for the contact tracing program because they did not believe contact tracing was measurable and did believe that its application varied case by case. However, program goals and performance metrics are essential to monitor progress and determine resources needed. In addition, the responsibilities of and reliance on the nursing staff grew during the pandemic because local public health departments were unable to complete contact tracing. As of July 31, 2020, there were 116 Postal Service nurses nationwide, with 30 vacancies — a 21 percent vacancy rate. Local management did not actively post open positions on the Postal Service’s career website. Retaining a full complement of nurses, or supplementing them where necessary with contractor support, is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis.

Lastly, although the CDC recommended temperature taking for employees in April 2020, the Postal Service did not deploy temperature taking within its facilities nationwide. As of July 31, 2020, there was at least one employee who either tested positive for COVID-19 or quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus at over 7,000 Postal Service facilities. The Postal Service conducted a temperature taking proof of concept test in May 2020 at four facilities, and it plans to conduct health screening tests at two additional facilities.

The Postal Service indicated that it has not deployed nationwide temperature taking tests because completing the test is resource intensive and there were privacy concerns. The Postal Service’s process for conducting the tests was complicated, and it required the purchase of different types of thermometers, additional employee time, and coordination with the law department and unions. Additionally, the Postal Service determined that temperature taking alone would not be enough to identify employees with COVID-19. Without conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks of employees before they enter the facility, employees could come to work while sick, increasing the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 to other employees and customers.

We did not evaluate recent operational changes made by the Postal Service or the significant increases in delayed mail at delivery units experienced this summer. In response to a congressional request received on August 7, 2020, we have an ongoing project which will evaluate these operational changes and their impact on mail service.

Recommendations

We recommended management:

  • Clarify and communicate the Postal Service’s face covering policy for consistent, nationwide application.
  • Communicate policy regarding immediate enforcement and corrective action for non-compliance with the face covering policy.
  • Re-evaluate the Close Contact Tracing Program to include program goals, performance metrics, and a hiring initiative to ensure adequate staffing.
  • Evaluate options and implement a nationwide health screening initiative which may include employee self-certification.

Read full report

Audit Resolution - Recommendation 2

OIG Response

Audit Resolution - Recommendation 4

OIG Response

Comments (401)

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  • anon

    Now that the President and CDC have mandated no masks for all vaccinated persons, does EVERYONE still have to wear when picking up mail from their box NOT in the lobby? Thank you.

    May 15, 2021
  • anon

    The Post Office of today employs the worst of the worst. They should wear a bag instead of a mask.

    May 15, 2021
  • anon

    I complained to the postmaster during the period when the usps was covered by the PMG's ruling that both PO saff and customers should be masked to reduce cross infection from Covid-because the Cowley WY PO had removed masks and posters notifying customers and staff that masks were required. I had spoken to some fellow customers. asking why they were not masked during the pandemic. The postmaster overseeing Cowley PO castigated me for speaking to customers out if concern for my 86 year old safety and that of my 83 year old wife. I wxpress3d my surprise that a government worker sought to deny,my 1st Amendment right to express my opinion of dangerous actors. That was,months ago but he has not granted me the courtesy of a reply nor an apology. Lack of civility, lack of concern for each other, and attempts to trample on the Constitutional rights of citizens marks a new low in. American life.

    May 14, 2021
  • anon

    President Biden just announced that “if fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask” Will this change Postal Policy??

    May 13, 2021
  • anon

    President says no mask, post office, follow the orders!

    May 14, 2021
  • anon

    Why are customers being served at the Post Office while they are not wearing masks? I took pictures if you need evidence. I have the receipt for the package I mailed to show the date and time this occurred. Do I report these Federal Law violations to the IG (you) or to some other agency? This is about the Post Office located in Crossville, TN 38558.

    May 13, 2021
  • anon

    Dones a mail man have to where a mask

    May 12, 2021
  • anon

    Someone better go check check on this. We have been under the covid-19 protocol for over a year now and my mail carrier has yet to wear a face mask and he not only delivers to the mailbox but to my business as well. This is a disgrace and needs to be addressed.

    May 11, 2021
  • anon

    What about the cleaning that is supposed to be done daily? My office hasn’t had a custodian for over two months. We’ve had numerous cases of employees with COVID. The lobby is disgusting. Nothing is being thoroughly cleaned. But rest assured, mgmt is submitting the report that all cleaning is done daily. Who do I contact to formally report this?

    May 11, 2021
  • anon

    --I am concerned about the absence of mask wearing and posted flyers about masks and social distancing at our post office. --We need a new and definitive update to the Inspector General "Employee Safety-Postal Service COVID-19 Response" pages online, which appear to have been done in 2020 and make no committment to the employees and clients REQUIRING masks! All that is written is: "To slow the virus's spread, the Postal Service required all employees to wear face coverings where a state or local mandate was in place..." So, if your state or local area has no 'mandate', does that mean that masks on staff are NOT required?

    May 09, 2021
  • anon

    I work in an office in northern Colorado where we've had multiple cases without proper handling. Just today we had an employee come back from sick leave because he was symptomatic and tested positive for Covid 19. He contacted the district nurse who did absolutely no contact tracing and stayed home. After feeling better he contacted the USPS nurse and was told to return today without testing again to see if he was negative. This has been pretty much our districts SOP for a year now. No one cares including the OIG and it'll never change.

    May 07, 2021
  • anon

    I was at the post office in Flagler Beach FL. masked and waiting in line ,all other customers and staff were masked as well. Another customer came in behind me with no mask on! It was my turn to go to the counter and i told the post office employee that the guy behind me had no mask on . I mentioned that people in Federal bldgs. must have a mask on . the employee responded ...oh we cant enforce that !... what good is the law if it cant or wont be enforced.???

    May 04, 2021
  • anon

    Converse, TX 78109. Please tell the employees there to wear their masks. I saw two without. And waited longer than i should have because i didn't want service from the idiot who wants to prolong the pandemic

    May 04, 2021
  • anon

    Are USPS employees REQUIRED TO RECEIVE the vaccination for Covid-19??????????? Thank you in advance, and stay safe. Kathleen

    May 03, 2021
  • anon

    No we are NOT. Management won't even enforce the mask mandate in most cases.

    May 07, 2021
  • anon

    I am a retired RN nurse. I live in Western NY state which has a poor record about Covid 19 precautions compared to the overall of the state of NY . The amount of correct precaution against the Covid 19 that will affect the overall community. I live in a rural area , my own postoffice Andover NY has very good precautions about the pandemic: All wear the masks and they clean the floor daily etc. However, other neighbor postoffices show a poor precautions regarding the use of a mask by the postal employees. The customers all walk in with their masks but the postal employees either have no mask or allowing a mask to slide off the nose. Now in May 2021 it is time to send a note to all post offices should at least use a mask in a professional manner. 80 death of postal employees by June 2020 that is a serious poor record ! The top postal leader appointed by Donald Trump has so far refused to resign for Joe Biden. It is time to respect life and resign the top leader in the Post Office. thank you.

    May 03, 2021
  • anon

    I am a Covid-19 lnspector working for the City of Chesapeake, under a state grant, who is tasked with ensuring that all businesses dealing with the public are following state protocol for the wearing of masks. Today, I have been handed a citizen's complaint against a postal (passport) female, employee from USPO Chesapeake,23320, who was not wearing a mask when processing passports in the presence of the citizen. She also became rude to the complainant when asked about the absence of the employees mask. I realize I support federal facilities and I also know the post office tries to adhere to local regulations including Covid-19 state regulations. May I please have a response with action from you? Thank you. I am now going to meet her in my limited capacity. She may not be at the pass office today. I shall see.

    Apr 29, 2021
  • anon

    Should employees return to work before the building is sanitizer

    Apr 28, 2021
  • anon

    Should employees return to work before the building is sanitizer

    Apr 28, 2021
  • anon

    The Marianna, PA Post office, 1742 Main St, Marianna, PA 15345 workers haven't once since the pandemic started worn masks nor have they social distanced or sanitized. This is a very small town that is nearing 100 confirmed and about 60 unconfirmed cases along with deaths. Not doing this negatively impacting the safety and health of the town as its letting the virus spread in a town that is predominately geriatric people with health problems and super high risk.

    Apr 28, 2021
  • anon

    This is still going on in Quincy calif branch of the post office 95971. Even the post master doesn't wear a mask. Isn't there something that can be done? Locals who are concerned are afraid to complain because they fear their mail will get messed with.

    Apr 28, 2021
  • anon

    I worked at a post office in Lansing Michigan. People where walking around the warehouse with no face masks on . I didn’t see anyone wiping anything down with disinfectant wipes . The lunch room was filthy . People walked around eating , not keeping 6 feet from each other . The truck drivers would come in on the dock and not wear face coverings . No gloves on . It was so overwhelming and I am so happy they fired me . I didn’t like working with people who don’t care about your safety

    Apr 27, 2021
  • anon

    Your employee working the counter at the 78669 Post Office was not wearing a mask while assisting customers.

    Apr 27, 2021
  • anon

    Rosedale Mississippi 38769 Post Offices refuses to serve you if you don’t have on a mask. Why are they doing this?? Plexiglass is up and there is no contact!!!!

    Apr 27, 2021
  • anon

    I have a PO box at the Sturgis SD PO and until recently they didn't even post on their doors that masks were required. They now have a small paper sign on the inside door stating masks are required but they don't have masks available, they don't ask anyone to put one on and part of the time the employees don't have their masks on. When I asked about why they didn't follow thru I was told that they don't want to be confrontational so they do nothing. Why have a mandate if no one follows it.

    Apr 25, 2021
  • anon

    In Arcanum, OH 45304 the postal worker had a mask under his chin and did not put it on properly to interact with me.

    Apr 21, 2021
  • anon

    While stopping at the Shanksville post office in Somerset County, PA, I saw that the sign on the door stated that masks are recommended. Masks are required in PA! I have been in this post office several times and not once has the employee been wearing a mask, most customers don't, either. This is totally against the law in PA. I'm glad that I don't have to go inside very often.

    Apr 19, 2021
  • anon

    I was sent home from work on Thursday, April 8 due to coming in contact with an employee who has COVID. I have had no symptoms and I am ready to return to work.

    Apr 16, 2021
  • anon

    Ponte Vedra Beach PO no mask enforcement

    Apr 16, 2021
  • anon

    The post office in quinlan Tx doesnt make employees wear any type of face covering during operating hours nor do they require customers although its on the doors. While Tx lifted mask mandates, i thought it was mandated federally in all federal offices and last i checked, the post office was a federal office

    Apr 12, 2021
  • anon

    In Rural Iowa at the little PO of Rhodes, Iowa they have never put on a mask!!!

    Apr 12, 2021
  • anon

    And further more when my stimulus check gets relieved to the wrong address in South Paris, Maine and a nieybor brings it over a week later because he said it was in his mail box that burns my butt. If the mailman can't read then there is a problem but I know the post office service doesn't care. They will care if people stop using it.

    Apr 09, 2021
  • anon

    The subject to mailman wearing face masks. Some aren't. I know nothing will be said about it. Just like my mail being delivered too the wrong address.

    Apr 09, 2021
  • anon

    There is a female mail carrier in Baltimore, Ohio that refuses to wear a mask when she enters our building to deliver mail. We allow her to use our restroom as a courtesy, but she won't comply with the state mandate or our own policy. She should not be above the same mandates we're required to follow. As a rule, she is rude and unfriendly, but the refusal to help protect others is unconscionable. Hold these folks accountable.

    Apr 08, 2021
  • anon

    A USPS mailman came to my health care facility and downright refused a temperature check. He claimed USPS workers are exempt of temperature checks... As it is OUR policy to screen everyone that comes through the door and enters our building, I informed him I had not ever heard of this. He began to belittle us saying, "Well you must be new here because I will not have my temperature taken." He proceeded to act as if I had pointed some kind of loaded weapon to his forehead. very rude, belittling, and unkind.

    Apr 06, 2021
  • anon

    Put hand sanitizer in the dispensers located by the elevators. They've been empty for years.

    Apr 02, 2021
  • anon

    My post carrier came to my door for a priority package. I open the door a little with a face covering and kindly asked her to put a mask on. She rudely replied with “ I’m outside I don’t have to put a mask on” we are not 6 feet away and she was on MY property. I find this disgusting and dangerous.

    Apr 01, 2021
  • anon

    The OIG has failed the country. The USPS is in direct violation of an executive order across the whole country, so the OIG made a note about it. The End.

    Mar 26, 2021
  • anon

    Yup! I've been beating my head against a wall for over a year now trying to change this to almost no avail.

    Apr 01, 2021
  • anon

    My postal carrier came to my door to deliver a package requiring a signature. He was not wearing a mask and refused to put one on. He said I could either come out and sign for package or he could leave a notice for me to go pick up package he was holding in his hand.

    Mar 25, 2021
  • anon

    Lori, Don’t you think your statement is hypocritical ? First of all a mask will NOT protect you from CORONAVIRUS. Coming in contact (signing) using a pen or whatever puts you and the mail person at high risk of COVID. Why? Because you could have COVID and pass it on through touching his pen. You don’t realize the sacrifice USPS employees go through as we NEVER shut down any plant. Customers want their medications, checks, correspondence delivered. When mail delivery doesn’t occur you are the first one to complain. Shame on you and others like you who take USPS employees for granted all while trying to do their job. Why don’t you try and live like a mail carrier for one day and deal with customers like yourself ? Instant KARMA will teach everyone to be humble and supportive.

    Apr 05, 2021
  • anon

    Covid is an airborne virus, not a virus transmitted by skin. Furthermore, the person could simply wash their hands afterwards. You can’t just wash out the inside of your lungs. The person who is asking the government employee to follow the governments law is not saying that USPS doesn’t work hard. Research studies have shown that the use of face coverings lowers transmission of airborne viruses. So, yes it could prevent you from getting it. Just like a lot of preventive measures

    Apr 06, 2021
  • anon

    I'm a carrier and we have been mandated for months not to even let customers sign for things. We are to make sure you are home and want item and then we are to sign for you and leave item where you can get it without contact with us. Period

    Apr 01, 2021
  • anon

    March 25, 2021 Employees at the Post Office 813 Green Springs Hwy, Homewood, AL 35209 do not wear masks in spite of a Federal mandate.

    Mar 25, 2021
  • anon

    I have struggled with this in central Illinois as well. Area 4 Gateway district is terrible. The plant in Champaign IL is maskless on second shift.

    Mar 26, 2021
  • anon

    My facility in upstate NY will not enforce the mask policy! Its a joke. Every nite clerks and even the supervisor do not wear the mask properly! What is my recourse????????

    Mar 25, 2021
  • anon

    Wear two masks

    Apr 29, 2021
  • anon

    What’s the proper procedure in handling an employee with a documented face covering or mask restriction?...

    Mar 23, 2021
  • anon

    At a retail United States Post Office within a convenience store at 1385 FM 359 in Richmond, Texas no one within the facility wears mask nor are customers required to wear mask. This includes employees in the post office area and post office customers. It is my understanding that this is in violation of President Biden’s Federal facility mask order. Please address this issue and bring them into compliance.

    Mar 22, 2021
  • anon

    What I want to know as a postal employee is why isn't the USPSOIG reading the general thread of these comments and actually doing something about the total lack of federally mandated mask wear across the Postal Service nationwide? Lives have been endangered for over a year now and well over a 100 postal employees have actually died with Covid-19 not to mention who knows how many customers may have been impacted by the total disregard for common sense precautions that some of my co-workers refuse to take.

    Mar 22, 2021

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