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Answering your questions: Mail and grocery shopping

Posted at 6:06 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 20:19:28-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — At 7 Eyewitness News, we are committed to trying to answer as many of your COVID-19 questions alongside experts every day. During this time, the mail is still being delivered and there is still a need to do a grocery run. We took questions about mail delivery and grocery shopping to the experts.

Q: "Does anyone know how long coronavirus germs can live on inanimate objects and if they can live on the mail we receive?"
-Diane from Delevan

A: "Our mail goes through a long, convoluted process, so I think the likelihood a virus surviving from beginning to end when someone mails the letter, let's say that some virus gets deposited on it at someone point, by the time you receive it, the risk is extraordinarily low," Dr. Thomas Russo, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said. The United States Post Office said it continues to put practices in place to best protect employees and customers. For instance, 15 million masks were recently shipped nationwide by USPS in an effort to protect employees. Delivery protocols are changing to now asking customers to remain at a safe distance or closing the screen door. 

USPS full statement:

"The United States Postal Service has a dedicated Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Command Response leadership team that is focusing on employee and customer safety in conjunction with operational and business continuity during this unprecedented epidemic. We continue to follow the strategies and measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health departments. The CDC has information available on its website at https://www.coronavirus.gov [coronavirus.gov] that provides the latest information about COVID-19.

To reduce health risks for our employees and customers and to safeguard our operational and business continuity, the Postal Service is doing the following:

• Working to overcome the challenges in the supply chain to ensure that our employees have access to hand sanitizer and receive surgical masks and gloves upon request. We have shipped 15 million masks throughout the country to ensure that they are available for our employees and are working tirelessly to keep the supply chain for these items flowing in the face of national challenges.

• Reinforcing workplace behaviors to ensure that contact amongst our employees and with our customers reflects the best guidance regarding healthy interactions, social distancing, and risk minimization. We have implemented measures at retail facilities and mail processing facilities to ensure appropriate social distancing, including through signage, floor tape, and “cough/sneeze” barriers. We have changed delivery procedures to eliminate the requirement that customers sign our Mobile Delivery Devices for delivery. For increased safety, employees will politely ask the customer to step back a safe distance or close the screen door/door so that they may leave the item in the mail receptacle or appropriate location by the customer door.

• Updating our cleaning policies to ensure that all cleaning occurs in a manner consistent with CDC guidance relating to this pandemic.

• Issuing a daily cadence of employee talks, articles, videos, and other communications to ensure employees have the latest information and guidance.

• Updating our leave policies to allow liberal use of leave and to therefore give our employees the ability to stay home whenever they feel sick, must provide dependent care, or wish to abide by state or local shelter-in-place requirements. We have entered into agreements with our unions and management associations to provide 80 hours of paid leave to non-career employees for issues related to COVID-19, and have expanded the definition of sick leave for dependent care for covered employees to deal with the closures of primary and secondary schools across the country.

• Expanding the use of telework for those employees who are able to perform their jobs remotely.

• Leveraging localized continuity of operations plans that can be employed in the case of emergencies to help ensure that the nation's postal system continues to function for the American people. With a longstanding history of quickly adapting its operational plans to changing conditions, the Postal Service maintains steady communications with mailers during natural disasters or other events that require emergency responses and advises residential customers and business mailers with regard to postal facility disruptions that may impact delivery in an affected area via its USPS Service Alerts webpage at: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts/ [about.usps.com].

We are proud of the work our employees play in processing, transporting, and delivering mail and packages for the American public, which is a vital public service that is a part of this nation’s critical infrastructure. The Postal Service delivers much needed medications and Social Security checks, and we are the leading delivery service for online purchases. The Postal Service is an essential service for purposes of compliance with state or municipality shelter-in-place orders or other social distancing restrictions. The statute that created the Postal Service begins with the following sentence: “The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by an Act of Congress, and supported by the people.” 39 U.S.C. §101(a).

Importantly, the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html [cdc.gov]), the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses [who.int]), as well as the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

Specifically, 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, travelled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.” 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.” 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."

Q: “Should I wear gloves and a mask when grocery shopping? I am 71-years-old."
-Linda from Cheektowaga

A: "So I don’t think you should wear gloves when you go grocery shopping. If you have concerns that when you touch things they may be contaminated, as long as you have good hand hygiene and don’t touch your face before you wash your hands, you should be okay," Dr. Russo said. He continued, "If you’re a vulnerable individual and you have access to a mask, I think it’s reasonable for you to wear a mask, but not the gloves." Experts and officials alike continue to stress only go out when you absolutely need to. The CDC recommends stocking up while on a grocery run to limit exposure and be prepared. It also recommends asking your healthcare provider about obtaining extra necessary medications.