BUFFALO, N.Y. — In this time when many of you are just staying home, the United States Postal Service (USPS) and package delivery companies are a crucial link to provide you with important information and products.
For example, USPS reports that over one billion prescription drugs are delivered by postal workers each year. Of course, Social Security checks and other important documents can go through the mail as well. But how are the postal service employees who handle the mail or other staffers in companies that handle package delivery dealing with COVID-19?
2 On Your Side found Friday that post offices in Western New York, like those around the country, are taking measures to protect their employees and the public. There are the familiar spacing lines on the floor but now some protective barriers like plastic shower curtains have been put into place at the counters.
Eventually Plexiglas will be installed. In addition some postal employees can be seen wearing face shields and of course gloves are being worn.
President David J. Grosskopf, Jr., the local president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, says none of the more than 2,000 workers he represents have been confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Some postal employees have raised concerns about adequate distancing and cleanliness of postal facilities like mail sorting operations.
The unions representing postal workers did not immediately answer 2 On Your Side's direct questions. But they did refer us to the previous statements put out by the U.S. Postal Service that safeguards are in place.
They include spacing protocols for illness or quarantine purposes, frequent cleaning of vehicles and equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staffers. This also applies to delivery companies such as UPS or FedEx, which did reply to state they are taking appropriate measures.
In addition, delivery companies have moved to "driver release" for packages. That means signatures are no longer needed for deliveries to most customers. That policy improves social distancing to combat the spread of the virus.
So, what about actually handling letters or packages delivered to your home?
There has been some concern about the coronavirus staying on surfaces for hours or even days. While some people have suggested leaving mail or packages outside your home for a day to make sure there is no possible contamination, experts say that may not be necessary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Surgeon General all indicate there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.
Of course, some delivery companies are reporting employee illnesses. Fed Ex says a "small number" of staffers have been diagnosed and that facilities where they worked were thoroughly cleaned They also say that any other employees in close contact were notified to take appropriate measures, like quarantining.
So, what about those packages arriving at your doorstep? You can wipe down surfaces the package was resting on or use gloves to open a package if you wish, for peace of mind.
Then you should discard the box. Cardboard has been shown to carry the virus.
However, the CDC has said "....the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that had been moved, traveled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low."
Medical experts, like NBC News consultant Dr. Natalie Azar, say it all comes down to contact.
"In spite of the fact that we know that it can survive on surfaces and contact can be a mode of transmission the experts still firmly say that the main mode of transmission is via respiratory droplets not contact," Azar said.
Of course the best advice is to always thoroughly wash your hands after handling just about anything that has been outside your home. That's the best advice and applies to a lot of situations these days.