A USPS Employee is Confirmed to Have the Coronavirus

A Postal Service employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. Does this mean it can spread through the mail?

News broke over the weekend that a Postal Service employee in the Seattle area tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to the report, the employee works at a Network Distribution Center that only handles parcels and not letter mail.

The Postal Service said in a statement that nothing is delivered from this particular facility where the employee works; parcels are sorted and then taken to individual post offices for delivery. She had recently traveled to South Korea and the Postal Service said that the incident was not mail related.

The National Postal Mailhandlers Union said in a statement, “This employee has self-quarantined and will not return to our facility until cleared by health authorities. In consultation with the Seattle Public Health Department, we have been informed the current risk to our employees is low and that the building in which the individual worked is safe for employees.”

How the Coronavirus Spreads

I bring this up because people are asking about the safety of handling packages that could have come into contact with the coronavirus. A notable example would be in accepting package deliveries shipped from China.

The Centers for Disease Control has obviously had this question come up a lot because the agency has posted information about it on its website.

According to the CDC, the bottom line is that there is no evidence to confirm that the coronavirus spreads on package surfaces.

“Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods,” writes the CDC.

The CDC says that the virus is thought to primarily spread from person-to-person contact (proximity within about 6 feet) when an infected person coughs or sneezes thereby creating these respiratory droplets.

The CDC has also recommended cleaning “high touch” surfaces daily if they are in contact with somebody who has the virus. These are things like remote controls, smartphones, keyboards, doorknobs, tabletops, counters, etc. that somebody would touch often. These should be cleaned with household cleaning spray or a wipe as per the label instructions.

And of course washing hands often is another tip to avoid spreading since the CDC says that it “may be possible” for the coronavirus to be picked up from one of these high touch surfaces and then enter our bodies by touching the nose, mouth or eyes. But, the CDC says, “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

What this means for the situation with the Postal employee is that, more realistically, any people she has been in close contact with would be more at risk of getting the virus than would USPS customers getting packages from this facility. The Postal Service said this particular facility is not one that sees customers and that the employees there primarily work with automated equipment.

Keep Things in Perspective

The coronavirus is new. That means it’s unfamiliar. Things that are unfamiliar are often scary. People are therefore worried right now; just take a look at the stock market for evidence of that.

The CDC even calls the coronavirus the “novel coronavirus” because it’s new. “There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be [sic] a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans,” writes the CDC.

The CDC describes the symptoms this way: “Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.”

The CDC also writes, “Common human coronaviruses, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people get infected with one or more of these viruses at some point in their lives.”

The agency does note, “This information applies to common human coronaviruses and should not be confused with coronavirus disease 2019 (formerly referred to as 2019 Novel Coronavirus),” but the description of the symptoms are similar to other known coronaviruses.

Yes, some people have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus (two deaths in the US as of the time of this writing), but most have recovered. Many people also die from the flu each year. According to the CDC, “the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza.”

The unfamiliarity around the coronavirus makes it ominous and scary. To be sure, it’s not a good situation that’s likely to get worse before it gets better. I wish the virus wasn’t out there, and I don’t want to see it spread. I certainly don’t want to get it myself and wish everyone who has it a fast and safe recovery. At the same time, however, I think it is something through which we will persevere. If you haven’t read through the CDC information yet, I would encourage you to do so.

Take some basic precautions – don’t travel areas where the virus is known to be actively spreading, stay home when you’re sick, and remember to wash your hands often. We’ll get through this.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.