Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Gerald Connolly on Tuesday sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to ask for a briefing on whether the United States Postal Service is effectively mitigating the spread of Covid-19 throughout its workforce and to urge DeJoy take steps to better prevent, treat, and report on employee infections and deaths.
“We are writing to request a briefing about alarmingly high numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths suffered by postal workers during this pandemic,” said Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, in their letter (pdf) to DeJoy.
“We also request,” the lawmakers continued, “that you take proactive steps to provide greater transparency and more effective mitigation of the health risks faced by the postal workforce.”
The letter follows recent reporting by the Washington Post documenting a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths among postal workers. According to the newspaper, “More than 16,000 employees are under quarantine this week after testing positive for the coronavirus or coming in contact with someone who had.”
“For every employee infected, roughly three are forced to isolate,” national officials from the American Postal Workers Union told the Post. “The ratio jumps in local post offices… because heating and air conditioning units in smaller facilities tend to recycle air rather than heat or cool air pumped from outside the building.”
In a letter (pdf) sent to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on December 23, 2020, DeJoy requested that postal workers be prioritized in the vaccination process, acknowledging that the USPS had “lost 119 of our colleagues to Covid-19 and more than 14,000 employees have contracted Covid-19 nationwide.”
In his December letter to Whitmer, DeJoy claimed that the USPS “continues to take all appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of our customers, and of our employees while they are performing their critical jobs in a manner consistent with the advice of medical and public health professionals.”
A report (pdf) released on November 20, 2020 by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General, however, “identified three areas where the USPS can better protect its employees: (1) face covering policy, (2) contact tracing program, and (3) employee health screening.”
More specifically, the inspector general found that DeJoy: failed to enforce proper mask wearing practices at postal facilities; failed to implement an effective contact tracing program, in part by refusing to address a 21% vacancy rate in USPS nursing staff positions nationwide; and failed to implement an effective temperature screening program.
“In view of these troubling reports,” Maloney and Connolly wrote, “we request a briefing by March 1, 2021, on Covid-19 infections and deaths affecting postal workers, as well as the impact on mail service that the pandemic has had.”
“We also seek information about proposals to provide greater transparency about the toll of the pandemic, such as a public website like those other federal agencies have established,” the lawmakers added. “Finally, we request information on the status of the recommendations to improve prevention and treatment made by the Inspector General.”
DeJoy is reportedly preparing to unveil plans for another round of service cuts and operational changes as soon as this week. As Common Dreams reported Monday, pressure is mounting on President Joe Biden to prevent further damage to the USPS by firing the sitting members of the Postal Service Board of Governors—all five appointees of former President Donald Trump—for cause, making it possible to replace DeJoy.