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Virus pandemic doesn't stop flow of packages, mail


April 17, 2020

Jana Peterson

Letter carrier James Schilling delivers mail in Cloquet's West End earlier this week. Package volume is up at area post offices as is cleaning and the use of protective measures against COVID-19. The package volume feels a bit like the Christmas rush, Cloquet postmaster Todd Manisto said.

Things are a "lot different" at Carlton County post offices these days. Different from normal times. Of course, these are pandemic times, and the people who sort and deliver mail are trying to practice social distancing just like everyone else.

Carriers are wearing gloves and other protective gear. There are floor markings at the post office, reminding customers to keep their distance from one another. You'll see sneeze guards and hand sanitizer.

And, as hard as it may be for both parties, now is not the time to cozy up to your favorite mail carrier. It's sad but true, said Cloquet postmaster Todd Manisto.

"Stay your distance," he said. "Don't approach your mail carrier, don't poke your head in their vehicle window."

It's practical sense, he said, as carriers are going from home to home and business to business despite the threat of COVID-19. The public is appreciating the continued service, Manisto said, and being "understanding" about keeping distances.

People have sent notes thanking postal employees and have donated protective masks. "People are being really supportive," Manisto said.

National stories about the financial plight of the United State Postal Service have spurred some to purchase stamps recently. The USPS is encouraging that and other online options for mailing for those who don't want to venture down to a post office. Manisto said some of the stories people are seeing are overblown. While post offices across the country have been carefully watching their bottom lines the past few years, the Cloquet office is actually busier right now, Manisto said.

"It feels like Christmas for the packages," he said.

Local businesses and people stuck at home are ordering items through the mail. The Cloquet office has seen a doubling of daily packages, to 800 a day from the normal 300, Manisto said. Across the USPS, he said, there has been a 30- to 40-percent increase in packages delivered.

People aren't going to the pharmacy and are ordering essential items, Manisto said. Items like medications are "through the roof." People are also sending care packages to loved ones they can't see in person.

There was a huge amount of Easter candy mailed out, he said.

Esko postmaster Roger Monnier said that aside from the jump in packages, things have been "business as usual." He also oversees smaller post offices in the county, like Wrenshall.

"We're just trying to stay safe," he said.

This week, there have been dozens of cases reported across the country of postal employees coming down with COVID-19. It's a constant threat. Manisto said there has been a "lot of cleaning" added to daily duties at the post office.

The Centers of Disease Control has said there is no evidence of COVID-19 being spread through mail. The USPS said it will still carry out extreme hygiene protocols to see things stay that way.

Post offices are sending notices to customers about ordering stamps through carriers or online. This month, the USPS sent out information stressing the mail options it has that don't require a visit to the post office. It is sending out free shipping materials like boxes and envelopes.

"There has never been greater access to postal products and services from the comfort of home than there is today," a USPS press release stated.

Contributed photos

Postal workers in Cloquet have received notes of thanks.

There are circumstances unique to Carlton County. Rural carriers are dealing more with loose dogs these days, Manisto said. People who are home all day are more likely to have dogs outside more often, he said. He'd like to see more people "containing" their pets.

Manisto said he understands that for some, the mail carrier may be the only daily contact they have with another human being. "People like to talk with their carrier. They just can't do that right now."


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