USPS Sees Rise in COVID-19 Cases while Exempt from Federal Mandates

The United States Postal Service is an independent agency, and is therefore creating its own rules, restrictions, and guidelines on things likes masks and vaccines. These rules are independent from the rest of the federal workforce. According to statistics however, USPS is experiencing a rise in the number of employees who have to quarantine due to the delta variant of COVID-19.

On July 26th, The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said in a memo to its members that USPS “unilaterally” updated its policy to no longer require fully vaccinated employees and contractors to wear a mask at work.

Previously on July 16th, USPS had updated its mask policy for fully vaccinated employees to allow fully vaccinated employees to be mask free in the workplace, except when required to wear one by federal, state, or local rules and regulations. Additionally, the agency instructed managers and supervisors to not inquire about their employee’s vaccination status.

APWU data shows quarantines among the USPS workforce have increased by nearly 30% in the last month, and have continued in an upward trend in the weeks after the agency removed the mask mandate.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein and Director of Industrial Relations Vance Zimmerman said in the letter to USPS employees that “The APWU leadership, including the National Executive Board, was not in agreement with this policy change.” Dimondstein went on to say “The APWU believes that a face mask requirement is still necessary as it is too early to relax the policy and the vaccination rate among residents of the United States is not at levels needed to stop mask wearing. Unfortunately, our concerns are proving to be true.”

USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in a statement on Wednesday, August 4th that the agency is “aware of the CDC’s recently updated face covering guidance and is currently reviewing it.”

“Any decision to revise our current face covering policy will be made only after internal discussions and engagement of all relevant stakeholders,” Partenheimer said.

USPS is still defining its own COVID-19 regulations while the rest of the federal workforce is in the midst of an increase of restrictions. Agencies last week reintroduced mask mandates for employees working in areas of high risk community transmission of COVID-19.

The Biden administration announced last week that the federal workforce is required to get vaccinated or comply with social distancing guidelines, mask mandates, and COVID-19 testing requirements.

While USPS is allowed to impose its own vaccine requirements for its workforce, Dimondstein and Zimmerman said APWU “has [ensured] that the USPS does not institute a mandatory vaccine policy,” but encourages all eligible people to get the vaccine.

“The science and statistics show that people who are vaccinated have a much lower risk of contracting the disease, spreading the disease, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. While vaccinated people can still contract COVID-19 in limited circumstances (known as “breakthrough” cases), the number of these cases are significantly less, the course of the disease is much milder, and the death rate amongst the vaccinated is extremely low,” they wrote.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. While all of us are suffering from some level of ‘COVID Fatigue’ now is not the time to relax the precautions one can take to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19”.

In light of the number of rising cases and quarantines within the agency, USPS cancelled plans this week to hold its first in-person, public meeting of the Board of Governors since the onset of the pandemic.

They announced Monday, August 2nd that “out of an abundance of caution for the safety and health of our employees and the public,” this Friday’s meeting would be moved to a strictly online, no in-person attendance gathering.

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