BALTIMORE — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Baltimore area postal employees is up to 11, according to the Baltimore District spokeswoman.
The employees are from the Glenwood Post Office, Ellicott City Post Office, Dundalk Station, Brooklyn South Station, Carroll Station, Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center, Hampden Station, Highlandtown Station, and the Windsor Mill Post Offices.
In cellphone video taken last week, the acting Postmaster of Baltimore tells U.S. Postal Service employees there's been a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Highlandtown branch.
"On April 7th, we learned that an employee at the Highlandtown station tested positive for COVID-19," said Eric Gilbert. "We believe the risk is low for employees who work at the Highlandtown station, but we will keep you updated as we receive new information."
As Gilbert tells the crowd that other workers are at minimal risk of being exposed, someone in the crowd says, "no."
A Baltimore area postal employee contacted WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii to share his concerns of the lack of protective equipment being provided to workers.
"Our office now has gloves. They got one box of masks, which is probably 50 in a box," he said. "We're supplying I would say 90 percent of our own materials to clean our trucks, to clean our office, we do what we can to get out here."
He asked that he stay anonymous out of fear that he could lose his job for speaking out.
He added that while USPS has provided liberal leave to employees who might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and those without child care, he believes many of the absences are due to concerns over limited resources.
"One-third or so of our force that’s not at work right now because of what’s going on," he said. "I know most of them are just concerned because we don’t have the correct equipment."
In an emailed statement, USPS said they are distributing millions of masks, gloves, and cleaning and sanitizing products to more than 30,000 locations, however, hazard reports filed by employees show these items are in short supply.
One report filed by an employee states they don’t have anything to wipe down door latches, handles, steering wheels.
Under the "supervisor’s action" on the form, the response is “wipes are out of stock. Please use what supplies we have.”
In a different report, the supervisor writes “masks are on backorder," and in response to complaints about no hand sanitizer, the answer is “out of stock at this time.”
"I think our biggest fear is not necessarily us contracting a virus but it’s us spreading it to our customers. I mean we deal with anywhere from 500 to 1,200 customers a day per person and it’s just that one person you can infect and I guess make sick per se. I think we're trying to avoid that at most," said the worker.
In a voicemail sent to all USPS employees in the Capital Metro Area, a woman says, "Postal employees have always stepped up in times of crisis and we thank you for serving the nation."
Among the many important items postal carriers deliver are critical medications and social security checks.
The worker said he wants to continue doing his job by providing this essential service, but he wants to know his safety is also being made a priority.
"We’re not being heard at all. And I think that’s why I’m here. We all love our job, we want to work, but we need a safe environment and that’s the bottom line," he said.
He added that cleaning supplies from the public has been a huge help, and they appreciate any donations.
Can coronavirus travel through the mail?
As far as the coronavirus spreading through mail, the CDC, World Health Organization, and Surgeon General have all indicated there's no evidence of that happening.
And according to the CDC, “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. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets.”
U.S. Postal Service in financial trouble
While workers try to stay safe on the job, the Postal Service is trying to ensure they keep their jobs.
Last week, the Postmaster General warned lawmakers that the pandemic has caused billions of dollars in revenue loss and the agency will run out of cash by the end of September if Congress doesn't provide financial assistance.