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Postal union warns mail slowdown could occur due to COVID-19 surge, lack of contact tracing

USPS
Posted at 6:14 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 18:22:27-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Mail delivery for metro Detroiters has been getting back to normal after major delays at the start of the pandemic but now, some postal workers are warning another possible slowdown could occur.

The reason? They say postal employees aren’t being told when their coworkers are testing positive for COVID-19, allowing the virus to spread inside their facilities.

“We’re really having a problem with the surge,” said Keith Combs, president of the American Postal Workers Union Detroit Area Local.

Combs says postal workers are getting sick in record numbers, but often because they’re not told if they were in close contact with a co-worker who tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m getting way too many calls where people are saying they have worked with a person they didn’t know was positive, but the person is off for a number of days, and then they get sick. But no one told them,” Combs said.

Combs says he’s been emailing and calling managers for two weeks to ask about the lack of contact tracing but says no one has been answering questions. Combs also says employees can’t get through to supervisors to report positive COVID-19 cases.

“Every number they call, they’re getting no one,” Combs said. “There’s some stations that had eight positives in a day, 10 positives in a day, four positives in a day. It just goes on and on and on.”

USPS spokeswoman Elizabeth Najduch said they have an extensive COVID-19 mitigation program and told the 7 Investigators in a statement that the Postal Service uses “a robust contact tracing protocol to identify and quarantine close contacts.”

Combs says some of the hardest hit locations include the Detroit Network Distribution Center in Allen Park, the GWY (main) Post Office on Fort Street, Livernois station, Fox Creek station and College Park station. The Detroit Health Department confirmed their investigators responded to a complaint about a lack of COVID-19 protocols at the College Park location.

In a statement, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Randy David said, “Contact tracing is an integral part of infection prevention as a means of slowing the transmission of any communicable disease. The Detroit Health Department (DHD) provides guidance and support to businesses, schools, congregate living facilities and the general public.”

Combs says he’s just worried about the safety of his workers and the reliability of mail delivery for all of us.

“It’s spreading is so bad, I think it’s going to have a really negative effect on the postal service,” Combs said.

After the 7 Investigators reached out the Postal Service about the alleged lack of contact tracing, union officials say their bosses suddenly asked for a meeting with them to address the concerns.

Here is the full statement from USPS:

The Postal Service does not comment on the existence of positive employee COVID-19 cases in postal facilities due to privacy concerns.

The Postal Service has an existing extensive COVID-19 mitigation program in place to protect its employees and customers nationwide against the effects of COVID-19.

This program includes the following program elements:

· Utilizing a robust contact tracing protocol to identify and quarantine close contacts consistent with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

· Mandating the use of face coverings for all employees and contractors who interact with the public when there is a state, local or tribal directive in place that requires face coverings to be worn. Additionally, face coverings are required for employees and contractors who do not deal directly with the public and who cannot achieve or maintain social distancing in the workplace.

· Reinforcing workplace behaviors to ensure that contact among our employees and with our customers reflects the best guidance regarding healthy interactions, social distancing, and risk minimization.

· Implementing a liberal leave policy for COVID-19-related absences, which helps employees stay home if they are sick.

· Ensuring millions of cloth face coverings, masks, gloves, and cleaning and sanitizing products are available and distributed to more than 30,000 locations every day through our Postal Service supply chain.

· Issuing a daily cadence of employee talks, articles, videos, and other communications to ensure employees have the latest information and guidance.

· Providing telework options for those employees whose position can be successfully and efficiently performed at an alternate location.

The Postal Service will continue to enforce the above referenced COVID-19 measures.

- The United States Postal Service

Here is the full statement from David:

“Contact tracing is an integral part of infection prevention as a means of slowing the transmission of any communicable disease. The Detroit Health Department (DHD) provides guidance and support to businesses, schools, congregate living facilities and the general public.

This includes guidance for all Detroit employers on how to help keep employees and customers safe and slow the spread of COVID-19, such as how to prevent an outbreak by evaluating hazards and how to communicate with employees should an outbreak occur, and finally having a plan ready for preparedness and control in the event an outbreak occurs.

The Detroit Health Department has a team dedicated to contact tracing in Detroit workplaces. Investigators will go on-site to assist employers with this process, following up to make sure they are complying with all state and federal guidelines.”

- Detroit Health Department Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Randy David

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com.