“We’re their store”: USPS carrier works through pandemic

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — East Tennessee communities are staying safer at home, limiting nonessential trips to public areas, and social distancing regularly.

Many employers who have the ability are allowing their employees to work from home to limit exposure and stop the spread of COVID-19.

There is an important group, essential workers, that continue working throughout the pandemic because their jobs are critical to the U.S. infrastructure.

One of those jobs: United States Postal Service Carrier.

The USPS consists of more than 600,000 employee who process, transport, and deliver mail and packages six days a week. They continue to do so amid the coronavirus pandemic as an essential job.

According to the USPS, health and safety measures are being implemented nationwide to keep postal workers safe while at work. That includes providing masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers, enforcing social distancing, and limiting the number of people in postal offices at one time.

For one Knoxville USPS city carrier, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed much about his day-to-day job.

“I’ll walk 10 miles [a day], I typically carry overtime, so sometimes I walk 11,12, 13 miles in a day,” said Gordon Acree, a USPS city carrier in Knoxville.

Acree has worked for the USPS for 32 years. He’s been on a walking route for nearly three years, clocking double-digit miles most days on the job.

He strictly follows social distancing guidelines when delivering to more than 600 homes on his route. He doesn’t always wear a mask, though he has one.

Because he’s outside, he says, the day-to-day looks the same, but he does admit there’s been a few social changes to the workday.

“It’s like Saturday everyday. Usually the kids are out of school, people are doing things in the yard, in some areas. They’re stir crazy and they’re bored… you’ll see them drawing things on the sidewalk. People are a lot more chatty.” 

Gordon Acree, USPS City Carrier

Acree says he finds himself politely reminding homeowners to keep their distance when he arrives. He says most are quick to do so.

Now, as a USPS carrier, he’s also able to leave “Signature Required” packages for homeowners without getting a physical signature, if he sees that they are home. Doing so keeps his equipment from being handled by more than just Acree.

“It does feel a little odd at times, it does feel a little surreal as you’re walking up to the porch and someone is walking away from you… it does feel surreal in that sense,” said Acree.

When he thinks about it, though, Acree says not much has changed for him. The walking route keeps him outside and he says with the community following safer-at-home orders, he sees fewer people on the road.

How to handle packages and during coronavirus pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are still unknowns about COVID-19 and how it spreads. The virus often spreads through respiratory droplets, and although it can survive for short periods on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products, or packaging.

There are CDC guidelines for delivery and packages addressed in a CDC COVID-19 FAQ. Those include:

  • Limit in-person contact, if possible.
  • Accept deliveries without in-person contact whenever possible.
  • Ask for deliveries to be left in a safe spot outside your house (such as your front porch or lobby), with no person-to-person interaction. Otherwise, stay at least 6 feet away from the delivery person.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after accepting deliveries or collecting mail.
  • After collecting mail from a post office or home mailbox, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

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