Post office reveals worker’s COVID-19 diagnosis

Island postal workers were quarantined for COVID-19 and returned to work this week.

A mail carrier working out of the island’s main United States Postal Office (USPS) tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago and entered isolation at home, according to spokesman Ernie Swanson.

Several other postal workers who were exposed to the employee entered quarantine for two weeks as a precaution. They have all since returned to work as of this week, Swanson said, adding that he could not confirm the number of employees who were exposed and sent home.

For the past week, after receiving tips from readers, The Beachcomber had attempted to contact Swanson numerous times both by phone and email, leaving messages requesting information about a possible coronavirus illness in the post office. In recent days on community Facebook pages, many islanders have discussed rumors of Vashon postal workers testing positive for COVID-19.

Swanson, who returned the Beachcomber’s calls on Friday, said he could not comment on the gender or age of the employee who tested positive, or disclose the worker’s mail route, citing the privacy rule under HIPAA. In light of the disease, mail carriers have been told to thoroughly disinfect the steering wheels, handles and shift levers of their delivery vans, Swanson said, noting increased measures to disinfect surfaces in USPS offices in order to protect customers and employees from COVID-19. He did not immediately respond to a later request for comment about whether the employee who tested positive for the coronavirus was a resident of Vashon.

Swanson’s timing and responsiveness stand in contrast to the response of Pacific Research Laboratories on Vashon to the Beachcomber after the company learned earlier this month that a Sawbones employee, who was not a resident of Vashon, had contracted COVID-19. Chief Executive Officer Norine Martinsen contacted the paper the next day “to curb panic in our community” and share information about the employer protocols in place, according to a March 11 email.

Swanson did provide The Beachcomber with a general statement from USPS not pertaining to the Vashon Post Office or the island employee who tested positive for COVID-19. It outlined the postal service’s efforts to provide personal protective equipment, including gloves and surgical masks, to all employees that request them, specifically for those who develop respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while at work. The organization is promoting healthy behaviors among workers, the statement read, including frequent hand washing and use of sanitizers as well as mandating the cleanliness of workspaces, adding that any employee who feels they are sick is encouraged to stay home.

The statement also noted that the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found no evidence to show COVID-19 is able to be spread through the mail.

“The CDC and the health officials have told us that there should be no concern on the part of customers in handling their mail. So I would say that the folks on Vashon should not be worried about that,” Swanson said.

However, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, or the other name given for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease) was detectable for up to 24 hours on cardboard.

That’s far short, however, of the virus’s survivability on plastic and stainless steel, where it dissipated after two to three days. The findings suggest that people may acquire the virus after touching contaminated objects, as well as through the air.

According to Public Health – Seattle and King County Friday, testing for COVID-19 for people who are symptomatic is expanding through the University of Washington lab, commercial laboratories, and large health care systems. On Friday, public health reported 251 new cases for a total of 1,828 and 16 additional deaths.

This is the latest known COVID-19 case on Vashon, including the Sawbones employee and two islanders who tested positive for the virus as of Saturday according to public health.