USPS vows to stay open despite coronavirus outbreak concerns

The U.S. Postal Service and Denver health officials met Friday as they attempt to resolve their ongoing dispute over a coronavirus outbreak at a mail distribution facility, with a spokesman for the postal service saying he expects the issue to be worked out quickly.

Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, and the postal service will continue to operate during the intervening days, David Rupert, spokesman for the USPS western area, told The Denver Post on Friday.

“It’s all a good faith effort on our part to satisfy their concerns,” Rupert said.

Denver’s Joint Information Center on Friday did not immediately respond to questions about the meetings or the postal service’s account of events leading up to the closure order.

The public standoff began Wednesday, when Denver health inspectors ordered the massive USPS Distribution Center at 7550 East 53rd Place to close immediately until COVID-19 control measures were implemented.

In its notice to the postal service, city health officials said USPS did not give adequate information or make their distribution center accessible to inspectors. The order to close the facility was a “measure of last resort,” Denver officials said in a Thursday night news release.

Rupert said the health officials showed up unannounced to the federal facility, which has badge-controlled access, and approached a random employee to grant access to enter. That employee turned them away.

“If they would have talked to us ahead of time, we would have been happy to help them with whatever information they needed,” Rupert said. “In this instance, they were turned away. That’s normal and natural for those who don’t have access to a federal installation.”

There have been five employees at the 2,000-person facility who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Rupert said, with the last confirmed case on May 2. The 840,000-square-foot facility is the fourth largest in the country, handling 10 million pieces of mail a day for 6.3 million people across Colorado and Wyoming.

Rupert insisted the postal service is taking all the CDC guidelines seriously regarding safely protecting its workforce, and that people should not be worried about touching their mail.

“We anticipate this will be resolved very quickly,” Rupert said. “All the facts speak to the safety of this facility. The facts stand on our side.”

The dispute has reached congressional levels, with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, expressing her concern Friday in a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan.

“Our USPS is only as strong as the health of dedicated employees allows,” DeGette wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided in a news release. “I ask you to work closely with the (Denver Department of Public Health and Environment) to help resolve this matter in a responsible, public health focused way. Furthermore, I request you provide clarity on how your national and regional offices are working with our nation’s public health departments to ensure that the safety of each employee remains the Postal Service’s top priority.”

It is not clear what authority would allow Denver to close a federal facility. In its letter to USPS, Denver’s public health investigator said the postal service could be subject to citations and a summons if they did not comply.

USPS, in a statement Thursday, repeatedly emphasized that it is a federally owned and operated entity.

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