‘There is no social distancing going on’: Ridgewood post office struggles to deliver mail during COVID-19 crisis

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Many residents of Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village were left without mail delivery for almost a week after one staff member at the Ridgewood USPS post office tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee, who asked to remain anonymous, informed the community on Wednesday, March 25, that only one of their colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus as rumors began to spread that more had contracted the illness.

But as a result of one positive case, many other staff members felt uncomfortable returning to work, causing mail delivery in various routes to slow down or stop all together.

Councilman Robert Holden’s office confirmed to QNS that his office reached out to USPS to ask what was being done to “cover shifts of sick workers and keep the post offices functioning as normal.” They have not received a response as of Monday, March 30.

A USPS spokesperson confirmed there was one positive case of COVID-19 in the Ridgewood post office, as of Monday, March 30. When asked about the call-out rate and staff shortage, the spokesperson said USPS is “flexing our available resources to match the workload.”

The spokesperson added that USPS is following recommended guidance and strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the health of their employees, including frequently cleaning surfaces in locations where there’s the most human traffic.

They also implemented social distancing measures such as placing floor tape that’s six feet apart in the queue line and three feet apart at the retail counter positions, and, where operationally feasible, utilizing every other window station.

But, according to a Glendale-based USPS mail carrier who’s worked in a Brooklyn post office for 22 years, what’s going on in Ridgewood is also taking place at their facility.

“There are 125 of us in that building; we can’t be six feet apart,” the postal worker said. “There is no social distancing going on in postal service. Our postmaster claims they’re following CDC rules, but no — there’s very little hand sanitizer, we have masks but I don’t think it works. They’re keeping it all very quiet.”

On Monday, March 23, they were informed that one of their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 and that their building would be cleaned. But, according to the postal worker, several employees walked out the next day because they felt their building wasn’t cleaned as their management claimed.

Then, on Wednesday, March 25, about 25 people showed up to work and about 39 others called out sick, according to the postal worker.

The postal worker told QNS that they know their job is essential — even during 9/11, they remember handing out water bottles while they watched the towers collapse — but they want to make sure that their work reflects that.

“I delivered garbage bags the other day from Bed, Bath and Beyond. It wasn’t wrapped so I could see what it was,” the postal worker said. “I can see being essential if I’m delivering essential things like medication, but I felt insulted.”

The postal worker said that barely any mail is being generated, as businesses have had to close. They’re mainly transporting packages and parcels, many of which are from Amazon — but the postal worker said that even those are slowing down.

Postal workers want to work, the lifelong Ridgewood resident said, but they want to make sure they’re safe and keeping their families safe during the pandemic.

The postal worker is over 50 years old with two kids, and has no pre-existing medical conditions, but is worried for other colleagues who are immunocompromised.

“We don’t want to shut down, just come in and actually clean,” the postal worker said. “We understand what our job is. I go to work in snow storms … But I’m not a first responder — how could you expect me to face the same thing?”

The postal worker added that they’re afraid they might be carrying and spreading COVID-19, without even knowing, regardless of the safety precautions already in place.

“I’m sorry, but this disease is everywhere,” the postal worker said. “It’s not even about clean or dirty, it’s about who’s passing it on. We sort everything. We touch everything. Every piece of mail goes through at least five people before it goes to your house.”

The World Health Organization maintains that the risk of catching COVID-19 from a package that has been “moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is low.” According to the CDC, while there’s still a lot that’s unknown about the virus, “there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods.”

Across the country, postal workers are facing the same fears.

The New York Times reported that the United States Postal Service’s current number of positive COVD-19 cases are still relatively small compared to their workforce of 63,000 — but those numbers are expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

Paul Hogrogian, the president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, said there were 65 postal workers confirmed to have been infected on Wednesday, March 25.

“That number will certainly continue to rise,” Hogrogian stated.