Postal workers complain of poor COVID-19 precautions, lack of contact tracing

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Mismanagement at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) endangers more than just the timely delivery of ballots for November’s elections. It endangers the lives of Postal Service workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 10,000 postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 83 have died. But the agency isn’t screening workers for symptoms, testing them for the virus, or doing meaningful contact tracing. Social distancing and mask-wearing are not always enforced, according both to workers interviewed by ProPublica and to many of the more than 250 complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For instance: “The station and the vehicles have not been cleaned and sanitized. Bleach spray bottles were provided at one time but the employees were not provided material to wipe down surfaces and the bottles have since broken,” a June complaint from Houston reads. “Employees in the vehicles do not have hand sanitizer or another method to cleanse hands while away from the station.”

Or in Smithtown, New York: “the air conditioning has not been working properly for the last 3-4 weeks (blowing 81 degrees at the vent) which has made working in the building uncomfortable and may be contributing to employees not wanting to [wear] their masks.”

Workers say they aren’t informed when people they’ve worked directly with test positive for COVID-19.

“They should’ve told anybody who worked with him, ‘You need to go home.’ What is it going to take, somebody to die in the building before they take it seriously?” a St. Paul, Minnesota, postal worker told ProPublica.

”They have the occupational nurse doing the contact tracing, but sometimes there’s no contact with the worker. And some managers don’t report [the case] to the tracking. Some managers tell people, ‘You don’t sound sick, come to work,’” the American Postal Workers Union’s Omar Gonzalez said.

The risk to workers becomes a risk to democracy as well if too many workers are sick or quarantined when ballots need to be delivered. More than 8% of postal workers have had to take time off related to the pandemic, and in some areas of the country, significant numbers of workers may be out at any given time, potentially compounding the damage being intentionally done by postmaster general and Trump toady Louis DeJoy.

It’s unconscionable to risk the lives of any workers, but when it’s partly happening because of a partisan war on the organization where they work—because the organization has been weakened, left without resources, forced to cope not just with the challenges of the pandemic but with its own leadership’s attacks on timely service—it’s especially disgusting.

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