APWU Meets with USPS on the Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 4, 2020

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The coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, originating in China, has now spread to over 65 countries including to the United States. The APWU is continuing to monitor the situation and is in constant contact with the USPS about COVID-19. The Postal Service informed the APWU on Feb. 29, 2020, that an employee tested positive for the virus.

Last week, the APWU initiated a meeting with USPS leadership to discuss their response to the virus. On March 2, APWU President Mark Di­mondstein, Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman, the Directors of the Maintenance, Motor Vehicle Service, and Clerk Crafts, and the officers assigned to Article 14 met with the Postal Service and representatives of the other postal unions to discuss the Postal Ser­vice’s response and plans and the unions’ concerns and suggestions.

Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan was pres­ent along with senior representatives of Labor Re­lations, Human Resources, the USPS Legal De­partment, and their incident preparedness team. PMG Brennan discussed with the unions what they are doing to help protect employees.

The Postal Service reported that they are work­ing very closely with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, and  various state public health agencies around the country to address COVID-19.

Stand Up Talks & CDC Resources

Employees around the country should have re­ceived multiple “mandatory stand up talks” in­cluding:

  • Staying Healthy: Take steps to avoid flu, oth­er illnesses (Jan. 24, 2020 and Jan. 27, 2020)
  • Health Tips: Flu and respiratory diseases in­cluding novel (new) coronavirus (Feb. 11, 2020)
  • Staying Vigilant: Flu and respiratory disease prevention tips (Feb. 25, 2020)
  • Staying Vigilant: Flu response and preven­tion (Feb. 29, 2020)
  • Voluntary Use of Filtering Facepiece (FFP) Respirators that explained the use of masks.

Consistent with the processes put in place dur­ing the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic in 2009, employees may choose to wear FFP and/or nitrile gloves at work. Management Instruction EL-810- 2009-4 addresses the use of gloves and masks and states management must provide these items.

Management also sent out numerous post­ers from the CDC that should be prominently dis­played in every facility to include bathrooms and break areas. These are:

  • Stop Germs! Wash Your Hands
  • What you need to know about the coronavi­rus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • What to do if you are sick with the coronavi­rus disease 2019 (COVID19)
  • Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019
  • Stop the Spread of Germs.

You can find all these Coronavirus resources here.

APWU Response

In addition to the meeting at headquarters, a teleconference with the Regional Coordinators and then a full briefing of the Nation­al Executive Council (comprised of every national officer) was held on March 3, 2020. The Regional Safety and Health Representatives will be reaching out to the local and state organi­zations to make sure they are aware of the proto­cols, guidelines, and to assist the locals as needed.

The APWU has contacted two expert safety pro­fessionals who will assist us. One of them previously worked with the APWU during the 2001 anthrax crisis as well as the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic and is well versed in efforts of both the APWU and the USPS during these past events.

Virus On Surfaces

During these meetings with the Safety and Health Representatives one of the most common questions directed at union representatives from members is  about COVID-19 being trans­mitted on surfaces. The CDC has a Frequently Asked Questions page on the virus where this is addressed:

There is still a lot that is unknown about the newly emerged COVID-19 and how it spreads. Two other coronaviruses have emerged previously to cause severe illness in people (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV). The virus that causes COVID-19 is more genetically related to SARS-CoV than MERS-CoV, but both are betacoronaviruses with their origins in bats. While we don’t know for sure that this virus will behave the same way as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, we can use the information gained from both of these earlier coronaviruses to guide us.

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. Coronaviruses are gener­ally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. 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.

Prevent Virus Spread

The most effective method to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is frequent handwashing, use of hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol, and staying home from work when you are sick.

Along with these the Postal Service has said they will be implementing additional cleaning and sanitizing of facilities and work stations. They will be providing hand sanitizer in facilities to include customer areas.

The additional cleaning will be in line with what was done during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pan­demic. Management issued a new MMO-031-20 Influenza and Coronavirus Cleaning Contingency. This Maintenance Management Order (MMO) should be in effect now, and the APWU is currently reviewing it to ensure it is sufficient. The APWU requested that the current clean­ing solutions under the MS-47 TL-5 be temporar­ily changed to chemicals previously used to better ensure disinfection of work areas.

“No one can take COVID-19 lightly,” President Dimondstein said. “We will be working diligent­ly and unleash all necessary resources to keep our members informed and protected. The health and safety of all postal workers is our top priority and we insist it be the Postal Service’s priority as well.”

 “There is no question that this must be a con­cern to all workers and everyone in this country,” said Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmer­man. “We will provide you information and guidance as it develops.

“This is a fluid situation and new things will be learned as COVID-19 progresses and the researchers learn more,” Director Zimmerman continued. “Keep washing your hands and please follow the rest of the CDC's guidelines.”

Each post office and distribution center – no matter the size – should:

  • Have all the Stand Up talks,
  • Post the CDC posters as required by USPS headquarters,
  • Getting an adequate sup­ply of gloves and masks. Having hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

If this is not happening in your workplace, please contact your local or state organization that can reach out to their Na­tional Business Agents and the Regional Coordi­nator to address the issue. The Postal Service has committed to these issues being quickly addressed and rectified.

For more information on COVID-19, documents and links to CDC resources can be ac­cessed from this page

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