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.

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Comments (18)

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  • anon

    I am a new clerk at Anniston al postal service and a man at night refuse to wear a mask around us and he gets real close to us but doesn’t care. Other people say the supervisor is afraid of him but he could put us in harms way so I am stressed out but I need this job.

    Dec 03, 2020
  • anon

    My postal delivery man does not wear a face mask when delivering our neighborhood mail. I’ve asked him where’s your face mask and he does not respond. There is no area on the USPS website to report this noncompliance requirement. The safety of our neighborhood citizens is at stake. Please advise what is to be done. Rancho Cordova, CA 95670-3174

    Dec 03, 2020
  • anon

    Waynesville NC not following any safety guidelines, no mask policy being enforced or social distancing. Management requiring carriers to ride with one another for over 8hours. Cleaning, joke. The place is filthy and not being sanitized. Management is negligent is keeping employees safe. Why should anyone have to wait for someone to die , to be acting in good faith. This needs immediate attention. Everyone, is at a higher risk without taking the proper precautions and mitigation.Help us

    Dec 02, 2020
  • anon

    In the very small West Hurley, New York post office today there were people sorting mail with no face coverings. The employee at the customer desk was wearing a mask. This seems ridiculous to me with the skyrocketing rate of Covid in Ulster County.It is childish and irresponsible.

    Dec 02, 2020
  • anon

    At the P&DC in Washington Tacoma wearing of a mask is a joke you have half the folks in defiance of wearing a mask properly while working around others and management to afraid to correct employees of the governors order to wear mask. So how come the Postal Service is not being fine or closed down by not being in compliance with the state order. Doesn't all our lives matter cause this disease does not discriminate Who is protecting us from those who could be walking around effected not wearing there mask properly. HELP US!!This is no laughing matter do Better USPS who's suppose to be protecting us and our Families .

    Dec 02, 2020
  • anon

    At the Bethany Oklahoma Post Office two of the clerks helping customers were not wearing masks. This was in a very small area, it is a very old post office. When I asked where their masks were the man told me there is no mandatory mask policy implemented in Bethany Oklahoma. Then he told me it was none of my business. I told him it was my business because he could be infecting me right now. I should have left when I saw what was going on. Next time I will.

    Dec 01, 2020
  • anon

    On Nov. 30th only one postal worker of the 3-4 visible in the Lacon, IL post office were wearing a mask when I went to the post office and it wasn't the one waiting on customers. She was also allowing customers in without masks.

    Dec 01, 2020
  • anon

    There is an employee at the China Grove post office that has just returned from New York from vacation was allowed to return to work immediately after without taking a Covid 19 test putting me as well as others including his co-workers in danger

    Nov 30, 2020
  • anon

    Buch of freaking morons

    Dec 02, 2020
  • anon

    Someone should tell the postmast in Pikeville NC that people's health is more important than his looking good to higher ups. He has a lady who knows she's been exposed to COVID-19 still working.

    Nov 29, 2020
  • anon

    The supervisors @ Irondequoit Station, Rochester, NY do not wear face masks or keep social distance, many employees do not wear masks correctly or keep social distance. I had to resign from my seasonal position because for my own safety of Covid19

    Nov 28, 2020
  • anon

    IG’s report of the Covid 19 blaming the employees is a freaking joke. I went several times to my managers on several occasions begging them to make other postal employees to wear mask only to be told to shut my mouth and mind my own business. I am a TTO in the Las Vegas office and the PD&C didn’t start requiring employees to follow the CDC guidelines until I finally went to OSHA and the news over fellow employees getting sick in my plant from not wearing mask. I even took photos of two fellow employees not wearing mask as required by postal policy and I told the managers on duty at the time, and showed the photo. I was told to leave the postal PD&C for violating some stupid policy that states no taking photos on Postal property and I learned this after I had taken the photos. But to keep my mouth shut I was given a write up over enforcing my rights to fair treatment as a employee. The Postal Service failed me and my fellow employees by sweeping it under the rug. So the IGS report is a lie and a slap in the face! I never received to this date an apology from the over zealous MDO for violating my rights to being protected and kept safe at work. Just written up and put in my file for blowing the whistle on the Post Office.

    Nov 25, 2020
  • anon

    Management won't even stop the supervisors and postmasters from stealing pay from the employees. What makes anyone think that they're interested in enforcing a policy that nobody tracks?

    Nov 24, 2020
  • anon

    I have been trying to get attention to the lack of mask compliance at work for months and everyone ignores me. WA has been under mask mandate since July- when I expressed concern to my manager the day after it went into effect, that we were not informed of it and half of my co-workers were still not wearing them, he said the (Seattle) district safety office said that we only needed to wear masks while not at our cases. This does not seem to match the actual state regulations, which state that masks must be worn unless you are working alone, and I wanted answers about that. I have gotten none- I was in contact with OSHA and they gave me District Safety Manager Jackie Muck's contact info, but my email to her expressing my concerns went unanswered. My co-workers do not follow even this weak "only while outside your case" rule- the guy at the case right next to me has never ever worn anything on his face, not even one of those useless little strips of plastic, and for many others it's "whatever I feel like wearing at the moment, including nothing at all". When I had words with my manager about the subject again, he tried to gaslight me by claiming that he "tells everyone walking around that they need to wear a mask" right as someone was walking up the aisle behind him wearing no mask; and then afterwards when he proceeded to tell the guy I'd taken issue with that he needed to wear a mask, the guy protested immensely, making it clear that he'd absorbed no such instruction! But I really lost all hope last week when MCSO Kim was at our station "investigating a harassment complaint" so I took the opportunity to complain to her about a few issues like this. I had to try even though I had no real hope of it changing anything, because she was bringing us all into the tiny little back office to talk and she herself wasn't properly wearing a mask despite being in a confined space. Her nose was completely uncovered the whole time, and I was in there with her at least 20 minutes, so even though I pushed my chair back as far as I could, if she happened to be shedding virus at the time there's a fair chance I'd get some from her.

    Nov 24, 2020
  • anon

    Just don't get infected with COVID as a part-time (non-career) employee, because if you do, you won't get paid for being on quarantine like I did.

    Nov 24, 2020
  • anon

    I work in Owego New York very small office and only half of the employees are wearing face masks.

    Nov 24, 2020
  • anon

    as a rural carrier at a ohio p.o w/ 75 employees our office has not emphasized the temperature even if it were on our own time cleaning /disinfecting is NOTa priority bleach bottle is left at door w rags if you yourself chooses to sanitize your area bathrooms aren't and high touch areas are not the few employees that have a note from a doctor excusing them from a mask but no another sort of face covering such as a shield some offices have provided them why not ours we now have an outbreak and i had been exposed prior to my husband having a very need test done i am just so over the careless everyone needs to have some sort of face covering on social distancing is not enforced in office things CAN be done to to social distance maybe stay in your case wow don't call me to gather around a accoutable cart with someone who doesn't wear a mask not kidding here so sad that this essential worker does not feel appreciated I was even the only route that was counted in our office the special count that lost over 5 hrs a week then final 4241 was submitted w out the curtsey of supervisor correcting my box count .

    Nov 23, 2020
  • anon

    We are experiencing high tension with the face covering protocol at the Annapolis MD DDU. Numerous times employees bring it to the attention of management, but no steps are taking to enforce it. They are keeping us in danger. It’s the same individuals who do not follow the mask mandate. The governor of the state of Maryland also has put a mask mandate in affect due to rising numbers. Please try to assist us in Annapolis.

    Nov 21, 2020