An employee at the Dundalk Post Office has tested positive for COVID-19, as was confirmed by local news reports on April 1.
No other information was reported at the time. Now, post office employees have come forward to blow the whistle, alleging that the situation is not being handled properly by the management. What they allege describes a habit of negligence and irresponsibility made worse by the coronavirus global pandemic.
Joshua Foulke has been a mail carrier in Dundalk for 17 years. He contacted The Dundalk Eagle to not only confirm that the post office does allegedly have a positive case, but also alleged that the way management is handling the situation could potentially lead to inadvertent spread of the virus.
“Everyone (who works at the post office) has been exposed to COVID-19,” Foulke alleged. “There is no PPE (personal protective equipment). If there is, they put it in there (April 1) because we had to call politicians to complain about what they are doing to us.”
Foulke said that postal management is allegedly “not honoring the 14-day quarantine. They are (messing) with people’s pay over this, and they are operating as if this were just business as usual.”
Mail service has also reportedly been spotty. Residents in Dundalk complained that they did not receive their mail on April 1. Foulke said the reason for this is because several mail carriers allegedly have elected to stay home when they learned that one of their co-workers tested positive. Foulke said that 14 mail carriers showed up to work that day, and they were asked to cover two zip codes.
Foulke presented more allegations, saying that employees were “kept in the dark” when superiors learned of the positive case. Foulke said that post office employees learned of the case on March 31. The person who tested positive is a friend, he said. Foulke alleged that the person in question was told not to say anything to anyone about it.
“They just want the mail gone,” Foulke said. “They care about numbers. They don’t care about people.”
“They care about ‘I have these numbers that go in and these numbers that go out. How they go out or come in, we don’t care. We just want it gone.’”
Foulke said the person who tested positive is a clerk who works at the front window inside the building. Foulke said this person interacted with customers at the window, giving them their mail and other things that customers request.
Another Dundalk Post Office employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said post office management is allegedly showing no empathy towards the situation. On a daily basis, mail carriers will make more than 400 deliveries on any given day, the employee said, and also alleged that mail carriers are not provided with the proper PPE.
“They say they are following CDC guidelines, but of course there are 10 or more (in the building),” the employee said. “It’s hard to keep the distance. We’re within six feet of each other. We’re not given the proper equipment, and we are not given daily standard talks pertaining to safety.”
“With all of this going on, and with the person that tested positive, the manager at the time kept it a secret.”
The employee said that the Dundalk Post Office covers 40-50 routes, and carriers go into the building to collect deliveries before starting their respective routes. Employees will elect to be mindful of Gov. Larry Hogan’s order of gatherings of less than 10 people, but the management allegedly does not enforce it, they said. In addition, employees will bring their own soap and hand sanitizer to work because these things are allegedly not provided, they said.
The employee said they understand that HIPAA laws are in place to protect medical information. The management, however, could have informed everyone else that one person who works at the Dundalk Post Office tested positive for COVID-19, they said.
“At the end of the day, we all have to go back to our loved ones,” the employee said. “Some of our loved ones have underlying conditions, like asthma or maybe diabetes. They are not aware that we are coming home (from a place where a person tested positive for COVID-19).”
This employee said they have a family member who has asthma. The employee said they take precautions to prevent this family member from being exposed. The employee will put their uniform in the washing machine and then immediately go into the shower, they said. This employee has put themselves in self-quarantine, and other family members will sanitize things in the home on a regular basis.
According to local news reports, the U.S. Postal Service confirmed the positive case in Dundalk and a second positive case at the Brooklyn Post Office, and that both post offices are following guidelines from local health officials and believe the risk is low for employees who work at both post offices. The anonymous employee said the Dundalk Post Office is allegedly not following the proper guidelines.
The United States Postal Service issued a press release on March 22, saying that the USPS “has a dedicated COVID-19 Command Response leadership team that is focusing on employee, operational, business, and customer continuity during this unprecedented epidemic.”
According to the same press release, the CDC, the WHO and the U.S. Surgeon General have all indicated that there is no evidence of COVID-19 being spread through the mail. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is one of the few government agencies under the executive branch of government that is explicitly laid out in the U.S. Constitution. In its current state, the USPS — still an independent agency and part of the federal government — is run as a public-private partnership.
One resident told this newspaper in May 2019 that they never had problems with mail delivery until they moved to Dundalk. Other residents have said in the past that they have had issues with their mail being delivered to the wrong house, or even the wrong neighborhood.
Dundalk residents have issued several complaints in the past about not receiving letter mail and packages. The recent complaints made their way to the office of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-2, according to Michael Baker, outreach director for Ruppersberger’s office.
According to Baker, Ruppersberger called the acting Baltimore Postmaster and left a detailed message, requesting to know how the situation at the Dundalk Post Office is being handled. Ruppersberger called the Baltimore Postmaster twice, one call each day for two days, but never received a response.
Baker said that Ruppersberger then called the USPS Federal Relations Team in Washington, D.C. to share his concern that he never received a call back from the Baltimore Postmaster. He received information on what is being done at the Dundalk Post Office after the revelation about the positive COVID-19 case.
The USPS maintenance team cleaned out the Dundalk Post Office and disinfected it. A contractor was hired to clean and disinfect all postal vehicles, Baker said.
Gloves and masks are available to all employees at the Dundalk Post Office. Masks are not mandatory, per CDC guidelines, but they are available.All postal offices, including the Dundalk Post Office, have implementing social distancing methods including signage and floor tape to keep people six feet apart.
According to Baker, Ruppersberger was made aware that Dundalkians are not receiving their mail in a timely manner. The USPS said this is happening all over the country as many postal employees are calling in sick due to family obligations and illnesses, Baker said. The USPS told Ruppersberger that carriers are out delivering mail and are gradually adding new streets to their routes, Baker said.
The Dundalk Eagle attempted to obtain a statement from a manager at the Dundalk Post Office. That manager declined to comment, saying they are not allowed to speak to the press.