A Raleigh postal worker tested positive for COVID-19; experts say risk posed by mail is very low

By: - March 18, 2020 6:30 am

The U.S. Postal Service confirmed Tuesday that an employee at the Capital Station Post Office on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh recently tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Few details about the infection were provided by postal officials in an emailed response to Policy Watch questions, so it was unclear whether the infected employee had contact with postal service customers.

It was also unclear how long the employee worked at the Capital Station location before the positive test, or whether other employees there have been tested.

“At this time, we believe exposure risk for other employees at the Capital Station facility is low, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health department official,” Philip Bogenberger, the Charlotte-based spokesman for the Postal Service who confirmed the positive test.

Bogenberger noted that the CDC and the World Health Organization have indicated there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through mail. He said that position is supported by the U.S. Surgeon General and the Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

After the positive test, Bogenberger said Capital Station was disinfected using “current cleaning protocols.” Capital Station is closed on Sundays.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is one of our highest priorities,” Bogenberger said. “To ensure the health of our employees, we are continuing to follow recommended strategies from the CDC and local health departments. We also continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on a nationwide basis.”

An area postal worker contacted Policy Watch this week to express concern that postal officials in some locations are not providing employees with gloves, masks or wipes to ensure they are safe at work.

“We were told that upper management was not going to provide us with those things,” the postal worker said.

Policy Watch agreed not to identify the worker who feared retaliation for speaking to the media.

Bogenberger responded “no” when asked if the claim about the postal service not providing gloves, masks and wipes is true.

The worker said she felt compelled to speak out because delivery workers are being overlooked.

“Nobody is speaking about the public service workers,” the worker said. ‘Postal, UPS, FedEx and all other delivery employees do not know if the person sending or receiving mail or packages has the virus or any other contagious disease.”

The same worker told Policy Watch about the infected postal worker at Capital Station.

A number of major news outlets, including the Washington Post and Raleigh’s News & Observer have reported in recent days that the risk of the virus being spread through mail is extremely low. The following is from a March 17 report in the N&O entitled “Can you get coronavirus from the mail? Here’s what health experts say about the risk”:

It’s highly unlikely a package from an area with coronavirus will infect a person, according to the World Health Organization.

“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” according to the WHO.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees the risk is low. CDC experts cite experience from the SARS and MERS viral outbreaks to guide their recommendation.

“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” according to the CDC.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said any presence of the virus on mail likely is in a low concentration during a CNN townhall about coronavirus.

“Even if it is on there, would it be high enough of a concentration to actually be transmitted? Although it is important, I don’t want to downplay the recommendations of wiping down the kinds of things you can easily wipe down,” Fauci said.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.