Two weeks after Denver officials attempted to shut down a mail distribution center, the local health department and the U.S. Postal Service are still at odds about whether the facility ever had a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment sent a letter to the postal service on May 20, ordering it to close a large distribution center at 7550 E. 53rd Place for disinfecting.
USPS refused to comply with the order, saying the city hadn’t taken the facility’s efforts to prevent the new virus’ spread into account.
Denver health officials argued that USPS had refused to allow its inspectors access to ensure the facility was safe, forcing them to order its closure. USPS countered that inspectors would have been allowed in if they’d scheduled a visit.
David Rupert, spokesman for the USPS western region, said Tuesday the postal service is in an “ongoing dialogue” and is cooperating with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. He said the last known case among the center’s roughly 1,800 employees was on May 2, and the facility has implemented social distancing measures.
“These was no outbreak,” he said.
The Denver health department disputed that USPS was cooperating. Spokeswoman Tammy Vigil said one employee of the center who had tested positive for COVID-19 had died, but the department hasn’t been given the access it needs to determine if other reported cases started within the facility, or if employees picked up the virus elsewhere.
“We need the USPS to cooperate with us in order to fully investigate,” she said.
Rupert on Tuesday characterized the report of an employee death related to COVID-19 as a rumor.
The Denver distribution center is the fourth-largest owned by USPS, and handles about 10 million pieces of mail daily for residents of Colorado and Wyoming.
Employees of 11 USPS facilities told ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, that their managers weren’t informing them when their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19, despite a pledge from USPS to do so. The Denver distribution center wasn’t one of the facilities where employees reported that issue, though one Denver mail carrier reported being ordered to continue delivering mail while waiting for a doctor’s note confirming he shouldn’t work because he might have the new virus.
Rupert said the USPS is offering generous leave policies to encourage employees who are sick or need to care for a loved one to stay home.
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