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Post offices stay open, take safety measures in light of COVID-19

Las Vegas resident Cedric Taylor was glad to see the U.S. Postal Service open for business Tuesday morning despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just moved into my first home, my first house,” Taylor said as he walked out of the post office on Martin Luther King Boulevard in central Las Vegas. “I was able to come in and pick up my mailbox key because the post office is still open amidst all this coronavirus craziness.

“I think it is a good thing that they are still open because they are allowing people like me, who don’t have access to a mailbox, to come and get their mail from one of the oldest institutions in America,” Taylor said. “If they shut down, what do we have left?”

COVID-19 has shut down a vast majority of businesses and public institutions in Nevada, from casinos to bars and restaurants to courthouses. Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the closures in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, but post offices across the nation remain open.

Yogi Roesner, an insurance adjuster, said that’s a good thing. The Las Vegas resident showed up at the post office at 2449 N. Tenaya Way in the northwest valley Tuesday morning to send and collect checks that are vital to Nevada All Claims, the small business she operates.

“It’s very important,” Roesner said. “I still have to pay bills, and I know a lot of people do it online, and for me to receive payments from my clients, I don’t take those online. They have to mail me the checks.”

Safety precautions taken

But while the doors remain open at post offices across the nation, business is being done differently in light of coronavirus concerns. At the post office at 1414 E. Lake Mead Blvd. in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, they sought to take care of the customers’ tasks not inside, but outside, if possible, and an employee also advised people to keep their distance from their fellow customers if they needed to go inside.

Employees at three post offices in the valley Tuesday wore masks and gloves, and signs on the wall advised customers to separate from one another.

“The Postal Service has so far experienced only minor operational impacts in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Postal Service spokesman Rod Spurgeon said in an email to the Review-Journal.

“We’re continuing to operate normally in Las Vegas,” he said.

Spurgeon said the post office has implemented a temporary suspension of guarantees on Priority Mail Express International Services for China and Hong Kong because of widespread airline cancellations. Mail to and from China and European countries could be delayed.

“To reduce health risks, we also are temporarily modifying customer signature capture procedures,” Spurgeon said. “While maintaining a safe, appropriate distance, employees will request the customer’s first initial and last name so that the employee can enter the information on the electronic screen or hard copy items such as return receipts. … 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.”

Mail unlikely to transmit virus

But can COVID-19 be spread via the mail? The answer, according to experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that it appears highly unlikely.

“Coronavirus doesn’t survive long on soft surfaces like cardboard or paper,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UNLV.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study confirming this as the journal examined surface stability of the virus, he said.

“Even if there is a contamination on the piece of mail you are receiving, by the time it gets to you that virus has been long dead,” Labus said.

Jennifer Sizemore, spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said this as well, noting the primary mechanism for transmission of COVID-19 is from person to person. She said the mail “is not thought to be a risk at this time.”

“Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said. “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.”

UPS, FedEx also take measures

Private mail delivery companies also are taking precautions. Matthew O’Connor of UPS Inc. said in an email to the Review-Journal that the company has implemented extensive safety precautions to protect customers and employees. They include implementing hygiene protocols and social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting facilities and equipment, and using protective materials. FedEx said on its website that it has deployed similar measures and that the company has temporarily suspended the requirement for signatures for most deliveries as a precaution.

Rhonda DiGennaro, the area franchisee for UPS Store locations in Clark and Nye counties, said the business outlets are deemed an essential business and are helping people navigate through many difficult situations due to COVID-19.

“Our basic message is we are here to help,” DiGennaro said. “I had a customer tell me they were unable to get medication to a family member in Arizona because the pharmacy in Arizona was out, so they were able to obtain the medication here and send it to Arizona.”

Postal Service customer Robert Vaughn of North Las Vegas said he stopped by the East Lake Mead Boulevard post office on Tuesday to make sure his address was listed correctly. He wanted to make sure it was right in case the federal government distributes checks to individuals in light of the pandemic, but he also thought it was important for the post office to stay open for symbolic reasons.

“It means our federal government is still operating,” Vaughn said. “And, this allows us to transact any business that we need to conduct nationwide, actually.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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