Greg Eslinger

Postal worker Greg Eslinger tackles new sanitation protocols at the Ketchum Post Office on Wednesday, April 8.

As Blaine County continues to assert itself as a COVID-19 hotspot, postal workers across the Wood River Valley have adopted new safety measures and rigorous cleaning regimens to halt the spread of the virus.

In Hailey and Ketchum, for example, social distancing is reinforced with floor tape spaced at six-foot intervals, and front desk clerks handle mail behind masks and plexiglass “sneeze” barriers. Weighing packages and selling stamps is now only part of the job, according to Ketchum Lead Postal Clerk Chrissy Marshall.

“We haven’t had a janitor for a year, so we do all the disinfecting ourselves,” she said. “Every morning at 6:30 a.m.—and at least twice a day—we spray down everything that could possibly be touched by human hands with germicide. That means every handrail, doorknob, parcel locker, P.O. box, and even gift cards and merchandise on the wall,” she said. “It’s been a bit crazy.”

Ketchum USPS clerk Julie Brewer agreed.

“We’re even sanitizing all of the parcel locker keys,” she said.

The Hailey Post Office is undertaking similar measures, though at the hands of janitorial staff. Ketchum City Council President Amanda Breen stressed on Monday that Hailey’s mailbox delivery system is much safer than Ketchum’s P.O. box system.

“The yellow card [package notification] system is just ripe for spreading disease, and it’s making people not go to the post office to pick up needed packages,” she said during Monday’s council meeting. “[Postmaster] John McDonald’s reign over the post office has been long and inflexible, and it continues to show in this health crisis.”

Marshall felt otherwise.

“No one should be worried at all about yellow cards or mail having coronavirus,” she said.

She said the virus dies fairly quickly on surfaces and the staff have been constantly cleaning and are using gloves.

While a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control has reminded people that shipping conditions make it difficult for the virus to survive.

“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,” the CDC states on its website.

That’s not to say postal employees haven’t been hit hard by COVID-19. According to the National Association of Letter Carriers, 294 postal employees across the country had tested positive for the virus as of April 3. As of Wednesday morning, the Boston Globe reported 427 confirmed cases among USPS employees.

There are a few things the public can do to protect postal employees, though, such as conducting business—like purchasing stamps—online at usps.com. The USPS is also offering free package pickup in Hailey and Bellevue, which can be scheduled online at usps.com/pickup. To print a shipping label, a requirement for pickup, visit usps.com/clicknship.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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