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 (419)

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  • anon

    Grieve it

    Jan 27, 2021
  • anon

    Mask mandate is still not being followed by employees or customers entering the building. Kurten, Texas post office, zip code 77862

    Jan 25, 2021
  • anon

    Despite repeated requests and a formal Complaint, our letter-carrier refuses to wear a mask. This is true even on occasions when packaged must be hand—delivered AND my wearing a mask. He simply ignores me when I ask him to use one.

    Jan 25, 2021
  • anon

    Hello, I searched several places online and could not find the following: What are the current Covid Rules for USPS customers (those who visit post offices) and what are the most current Covid Rules for USPS employees (those who are employed by the USPS)? Thank you.

    Jan 24, 2021
  • anon

    Many carriers and clerks not wearing or improperly wearing masks at my station in Louisville. Please address for our safety, since the two week covid leave wasn’t extended. Also, please coordinate vaccinations for employees and work to get postal employees hazard pay.

    Jan 24, 2021
  • anon

    I believe your mail delivery personnel should be required to wear face coverings. We currently have a delivery person in Napa, Ca that does not and it makes me very nervous that he's on my porch handling my mail unmasked. Thank you

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    Ma’am the virus is not transmitted on your paper or plastic package. If you do not want contact with people outside please do not answer your door. Carriers aren’t required to wear masks outside and there is no mandate anywhere that requires anyone to wear a mask outdoors. They aren’t required by the postal service or any law to wear one while driving or sitting in their their vehicles, while delivering mail to mailboxes or when leaving packages at customers doors. Wearing gloves while handing mail and packages also isn’t required so your carrier handling your mail without wearing a mask doesn’t spread the virus. Otherwise you would have to worry about everything you purchase at the grocery store as it’s been touched by numerous hands before reaching the shelf; getting gas and the pump being contaminated by everyone else who got gas before you; everyone who sent you mail as well as they handled it before giving it to the post office. Postal workers have worked daily throughout the pandemic ensuring that everyone safe in their homes or suffering with illnesses in facilities (without family or friend contact) are able to get supplies, receive paychecks, insurance forms, school information, cards, medications, etc. Your carrier is more at risk of catching it from those of you at home than you are of getting it from him.

    Feb 02, 2021
  • anon

    Conway, AR One postal clerk inside, not wearing mask. One postal clerk wearing a mask. One postal clerk wearing below her nose. This was 1/22/2021. Please do something about this. It is a federal building, is it not?

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    Employees at the counter in my post office do not wear the mask correctly. My state has a mask mandate. Other branches in my state appear to be following safety protocols. Please do better.

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    GREENBRIER COUNTY WV MAIL CARRIERS ENTERING BUSINESSES, HAND DELIVERING MAIL, NOT WEARING A MASK. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Please Make It Stop.

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    I work in the Sapulpa, OK PO & President Biden’s mask mandate is not being enforced. Many people are walking around without a mask including some management.

    Jan 23, 2021
  • anon

    The mandate that biden placed in affect, is only in federal bldgs. The Post office is not a federal bldg.

    Jan 25, 2021
  • anon

    Every post office in ny is defined as a federal facility.

    Jan 26, 2021
  • anon

    I was at the post office today in harrison ohio. The employee who was working the counter was not wearing a mask. Not even one around their neck or near them. I had mailed a package a few weeks ago and the same lady was working... and bbn no mask. I thought it was the post office policy during a pandemic for employees to wear a mask.

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    We have had a new mailman delivering mail to our house, & now 2 days in a row, he came up on our porch to deliver the mail with a mask hanging below his chin. The mask was not covering his mouth or nose. I heard my dog barking at the door, opened my door and there he was, 6 inches from my face unmasked!! Our previous mailman ALWAYS had a mask on. Individual employees are NOT following mandates! How do you expect to slow spread when the mail carriers are not wearing masks and delivering mail to homes???

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    Homer, AK USPS have refused to wear masks this entire pandemic. Even now, after a mandate to wear masks in a federal facility, they still shun the order. What can be done to enforce practical policies and stop people from behavior based on their own opinions?

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    Escanaba Mich. There were three postal employees no masks. All customers had masks. 01/22/21.

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    I have 3 regular carriers who are always wearing masks on their chins. There was even a time when 2 trucks pulled up and both employees had masks pulled down, in the truck, together. That can't be good for the mail not getting contaminated

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    I work at the Trinity, FL carrier annex. The mask mandate has NOT been enforced by management. I have even heard a member of management tell others "It's not real!" in reference to the pandemic. I don't feel safe and feel helpless. Why isn't more being done?

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    Llano Texas. Employees working the counter with the public not wearing masks. Do something USPS

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    The postal workers do not wear masks at the counter and seem to believe a small plexiglass at the counter is enough. When I pick up packages (have to because I can’t go to store I am high risk) they expose me to risk. I wear a mask. I am sick now and they are the only ones I have been exposed to. Port Tobbaco MD both of them were not at work for a while so were they sick?

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    Biden instituted a mask mandate on all federal property. How will the postal service enforce this. My local post office has 20% bare faces every time. I’ve taken to propping open the doors and letting it air out before I enter. The employees frequently have masks on their chins with mouth and nose exposed.

    Jan 22, 2021
  • anon

    The executive order mask mandate is not being followed in Morgan County GA. Mask wearing is voluntary for employees and customers. There is no signage in place alerting customers of the executive order. The mask mandate is followed at Walmart but not the Post Office? This puts usps customers and employees at greater risk of contracting covid-19. I now ship my packages at the local pack and ship store via UPS and FedEx.

    Jan 25, 2021
  • anon

    In Polk City Iowa, employees refuse to wear masks even when asked, saying it is their right not to wear one. This is unacceptable behavior

    Jan 21, 2021
  • anon

    Little to no mask wearing by employees at the in Kingsport, TN, post office.

    Jan 21, 2021
  • anon

    Mosinee, Wisconsin post office no employees masking. It seems from the comments that this is common and being ignored by USPS

    Jan 21, 2021
  • anon

    I do everything possible to protect myself and others from this virus. When I finally had no choice but go to our Post Office in Vinita, OK, I wore my mask as did another senior waiting for service. A USPS employee, without a mask, came away from the counter and into the lobby to do something. At first I was unpleased that she came close to me wearing no mask yet talking to someone! The other senior customer, also waiting for service, asked her why she wasn't wearing a mask. Her response, attitude and tone of voice to this gentleman was a disgrace to USPS and that angered me. She said, "Because I don't have to!!" I don't know her name but she's been an employee at this PO many years. Please mandate and also enforce that all USPS employees wear masks when they are helping customers inside. Due to the rudeness and lack of concerns for customer's health, I'm looking into other means to perform mailing and shipping that does not require me visiting the Vinita P.O. again.

    Jan 21, 2021
  • anon

    We have 12 people that have or had Covid. No one came in to clean my station or even ask employees wear a mask! Also o had Covid the first 2 weeks of January 2021. I did not get paid and this is a big financial crisis for me, with no fault of my own.

    Jan 21, 2021
  • anon

    Inspector General, please extend the Covid 19 Paid Leave to postal employees. I am a mail carrier, and my husband just tested positive for covid. Subsequently, I need to quarantine to stop the spread of the virus to my coworkers, as well as to my customers. In consequence, I need to get paid for the mandated 2 weeks quarantine. We did not ask for this pandemic. Please, continue the covid leave payments.

    Jan 20, 2021
  • anon

    Diberville Ms post office has never enforced the mask policy even though we have had at least 12 cases in our office. Social distance is a joke. The rural carriers are training people at their cases which requires close contact. We can’t social distance when training. I have two underlining conditions and now have to train a sub. This is wrong and I will decline training this person because we can’t maintain social distance at all !!! Please can someone tell me if this is ok?

    Jan 19, 2021
  • anon

    I work in a post office in the Sacramento District. Our PM does not enforce the use of masks, rather she has discouraged their use (told us they don't work at our first Covid stand up meeting). Supervisor is no help either. So 95% of our office doesn't use them and there are anti-mask remarks heard daily from some of the employees and how covid is overblown by the media. Well we are in California and have been averaging 600 deaths daily! We've already had an employee out who tested positive, but no, still didn't encourage masks afterwards. Recently the PM and a few other employees had to help out at a neighboring post office whose entire staff was out on quarantine. But no, when they came back 2 weeks later still no masks or any encouragement on their usage. I feel so bad for our masked customers as we are endangering their safety.

    Jan 17, 2021
  • anon

    The mail carriers who deliver to our condominium do not wear face coverings when in the enclosed shared entryway to our building. This entryway/foyer is small. The individual who has been coming here is always talking on their phone and spreading droplets around also to make things worse. Is there any way to get them to wear a mask when inside?

    Jan 16, 2021
  • anon

    The mask requirement is a joke in the postal service. No one but me in my office will wear a mask. Especially the postmaster. I have threatened to file a 1767 but no one cares. You can bet there would be retaliation if I did. We have had numerous customers ask the postmaster why she wasn't wearing a mask. One woman asked her why she wasn't wearing a mask and was crying because she had lost several family members to covid. It all falls on deaf ears with the postmaster. It's really hard to go to work and see things like this everyday. Management doesn't care.

    Jan 16, 2021
  • anon

    Can the post office legally remove someone for not wearing a face masks on postal property?

    Jan 15, 2021
  • anon

    I used the main post office in Charlottesville, Virginia and asked the clerk to wear a mass. She refused and offered to let her associate serve me. The associate had a mask below the nose and did not rise it when requested. I think clerks serving the public should wear a mask. There were about 20 people waiting for service and all were masked.

    Jan 15, 2021
  • anon

    Most of the deliverys I recieve from USPS are from unmasked postal workers. I am concerned about postal workers not wearing a mask while handling packages, given the staggering numbers of USPS employees that have caught COVID-19. What is being done to ensure the packages we receive have been handled safely in respect to reducing the spread of COVID-19 during these grave times for our nation?

    Jan 14, 2021
  • anon

    I don’t feel safe working here in the post office because they are more cases in this post office plus I don’t feel that they sanatized any of the areas that we work at and that people that have it work on the same areas the prodocal as well is not to standard with the COVID 19 not checking people before coming in to work for fever or anything some people are careless and just come to work even if there sick

    Jan 14, 2021
  • anon

    Hey Cristina I work in the post office in ct there’s 2 an 3 positive cases every week in our office we never see maintenance cleaning at all there’s also some staff who wear there mask under there nose all day long there’s no social distancing there are some people who take the 2 weeks still for being exposed but the Covid fund was over on December 31st why are we getting paid there using our Al is our sick leave or there Lwop on is it’s not fair we didn’t ask for this we should get paid regardless we did not ask to wear masks all day our temperature never gets checked at all it’s scarry working there

    Jan 17, 2021
  • anon

    Is it true that you told your employees that if they contract COVID-19 after December 31, 2020 that they would not get paid? That is the most insane thing that I've heard. If an employee gets the virus do you have them quarantine or allow them to spread it throughout the facility?

    Jan 14, 2021
  • anon

    They stopped paying employees if they are quarantined because of exposure . It’s ridiculous. It’s causing many employees to come to work that shouldn’t be there . We have a new case every day .

    Jan 18, 2021
  • anon

    The Post Office in Sherwood has a sign on the door that masks should be worn in the building. However on more than one occasion I have been there and one female employee has no mask at all. This is unsafe for co workers and customers.

    Jan 14, 2021
  • anon

    You sound like the type that would ratted out Jews in hiding to the Nazis.

    Jan 19, 2021
  • anon

    None of the employees at my post office are wearing masks. None. All of the patrons were, but none of the employees. Post office on 825 S Church St, Murfreesboro, TN 37130-9998.

    Jan 13, 2021
  • anon

    If a person is handicapped and can not walk, is there a requirement that the mail carrier can put the mail outside a person's door?

    Jan 13, 2021
  • anon

    Get some HAZZARD PAY OR ALL POSTAL WORKERS IN TIMES LIKE THESE.THEY ,WE DESERVE IT .SHOW US YOU CARE

    Jan 13, 2021
  • anon

    We have been working through it all and we as the carriers have not got any hazards pay !!!! We need it . We have been around it why others can sit at home. We need hazard pay!!!!

    Jan 20, 2021
  • anon

    At the Bridgton ME post office one clerk who works at the counter does not wear a mask at all and another pulls the mask below his nose. These people are very polite but I have vulnerable people in my care so I don’t feel safe using the PO. What can be done?

    Jan 13, 2021
  • anon

    Regarding your objective it was stated “requested customers to wear face coverings in all retail facilities,” I would like to make it a mandate that all customers should be required (not requested) to wear face coverings. If not compliant there should be federal crimes brought against individuals not complying to the aforementioned requirement. Many customers in my local post office (Rocksprings Tx 78880) do not wear mask when I am inside the facility including when checking my personal PO Box

    Jan 12, 2021
  • anon

    I have been off work with the usps since January 4, 2021 with covid 19, my postmaster calls today and want to know what kind of leave I am taking. This pandemic is far from over so why is the postal service not paying its employees any longer for being off with the covid. Why did it expire December 31, 2020 if the covid is still running rapid???

    Jan 12, 2021
  • anon

    at my local PO Ellettsville,IN one employee had no mask on the other had it pulled down below his nose. This was in the am on Tuesday the 11th of January. I am 75 and am upset about this!!.

    Jan 12, 2021

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