I don't usually strike up conversations with strangers, but I couldn't resist on a recent visit to a local post office branch when I noticed an employee behind the counter had no face covering, despite Indiana's mask mandate.
“Where's your mask?” I whispered.
But whispers don't work well when wearing a mask, so when the employee indicated he hadn't heard me, I repeated the question. This time I pointed toward my mask.
Well, it turns out the employee just believes in “living life” – to use his words – and had opted out of masks.
Nothing has happened to him yet, he said.
Yeah, but people are dying every day, I reminded him.
You can't believe all the media reports, he suggested.
I considered pointing out that I work for the media, but quickly decided that wouldn't matter if the employee really had a general assumption that much of the COVID-19 news has been fictitious.
Sure, the employee was behind a counter and there was a see-through shield on the countertop. But the space between the employee and customers was not much more than arm's length. That falls short of the recommended 6 feet to meet social distancing guidelines we've heard so much about – along with how masks can help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The employee went on to say he tried wearing a mask earlier in the pandemic, but it was causing skin irritation. That might be so, but with a little searching and the vast availability of masks in countless designs and different materials, it seems feasible for people to find a style that's not too harsh on the skin. I suspect the employee's indifference about masks, based on his initial response, was the primary reason for working without one – despite interacting with the public.
Even if the employee questions media reports about the seriousness of COVID-19, I find it hard to believe he hadn't learned of a friend or relative – or at least a friend of a friend – who has contracted the virus.
A cousin of mine died three weeks before Christmas from coronavirus.
On the same day I spoke with the postal worker, came an evening text message about someone I know who had also been hospitalized with COVID-19 but improved enough to go to a rehab facility.
But the next day, I received a group text from a friend soliciting prayers for someone she knows whose 50-year-old son died from COVID-19.
And the very next morning came another group text from someone else seeking prayer for another mom whose adult son died from the virus.
No fiction here.
On Aug. 14, The Journal Gazette published an article about U.S. Post Office policy after a local resident raised concerns about workers at one of the Fort Wayne satellite offices.
A Google search turns up a November 2020 report from the Office of Inspector General that addresses employee safety. The full report is at https://www.uspsoig.gov/document-library
Below is an excerpt from the report:
“While we recognize the challenges facing the Postal Service during the pandemic, we identified three areas where the Postal Service can better protect its employees: (1) face covering policy, (2) contact tracing program, and (3) employee health screening.
First, Postal Service employees did not always wear face coverings when proper social distancing could not be achieved. We visited 10 facilities, including five mail processing and five retail and delivery facilities, and observed employees at four retail and delivery facilities (40%) who did not adhere to the local face covering policy. In addition, during our review of camera footage, we observed 41 of 117 facilities (35%) with at least one employee not wearing a face covering where a local mandate required one, and while not social distancing.
These employees were behind the counter or in the back of a retail and delivery facility or on the workroom floor in a processing facility.
The Postal Service face covering policy at all facilities cited local or state mandates and when employees could not maintain social distancing in the workplace. However, facility management voiced confusion with the policy and interpreted it to mean that state and local directives determined whether employees were required to wear face coverings. Postal Service Headquarters considered the local requirements supplemental to the nationwide policy.
In addition, managers of offending employees were not always aware they could enforce the face covering policy. An enforcement process which includes engaging the union representative and taking appropriate action existed; however, it was not well-known or followed because it was only communicated verbally to some managers. The confusing face covering policy and its inconsistent enforcement put employees at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and potentially decreased employee availability.”