When Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down New York last month to essential businesses only, he didn’t close off U.S. Postal Service deliveries. Nor could he, likely, since it’s a federal agency.
Yet, in recent days, many living within both the 10463 and 10471 ZIP codes — among others — haven’t been getting mail, or having outgoing parcels picked up. The culprit is probably no surprise: the coronavirus.
Some people waiting for delivery of bills, letters and medications were left in limbo for days in late March and early April, some discovering they couldn’t even drop off or pick up their mail right at the source, since some of the satellite post offices — 444 W. 238th St., for example — were closed without notice.
Marcia Yerman headed to West 238th’s on March 30, only to find the doors locked. She snapped a photo of the door — locked and gated. Signs warned customers coming in it was only accepting payment by card — no cash — but had nothing about the fact the location was closed.
Many of those missing their mail have taken to social media to share their concerns, as well as what they say is a lack of response from the post office. Most of the mail delivery problems include buildings within the Spuyten Duyvil and Kingsbridge neighborhoods, as well as parts of Fieldston.
A March 31 email from property managers to tenants at Century at 2600 Netherland Ave., said the building had not received mail since the previous Saturday. According to the email, management from the Century had been in touch with the post office, and told they “do not have the personnel to deliver at this time.”
“It didn’t say, ‘We’ll be back,’” Yerman said of the post office. “It didn’t say ‘we’re closed.’”
Yerman and some other neighbors trying to send or pick up mail gathered on the sidewalk that day — and yes, they said they held a mandated a six-foot distance from each other in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — trying to figure out what was going on.
They weren’t alone. There also was a serious delivery lag from the post office on Broadway, the main hub for the area.
“They had a serious problem,” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said. “A week ago, Thursday or Friday, an individual who works at the post office tested positive” for the coronavirus.
The office had to close for cleaning, the lawmaker said, but that was only part of the problem as postal workers have also called out sick.
The lag has attracted attention from elected officials. A joint letter from Dinowitz, Councilman Andrew Cohen, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel to Postmaster General Megan Brennan asked if the West 238th branch had been closed due to health reasons. If the postal service had any protocol in place to let people know that mail delivery wasn’t happening.
And how it planned to protect not just employees, but those needing to use postal services, from the spread of the coronavirus.
In a statement, postal service officials said they have had to update their leave policies to ensure sick employees could “stay home whenever they feel sick,” when they “must provide dependent care,” or any other reason that would require leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The act provides additional flexibility with leave when it’s associated with the pandemic, effective through the end of the year.
Officials also directed anyone missing mail to its USPS service alerts website to find information on facility disruptions. As of April 2, the website listed no disruptions in the northwest Bronx.
“We want to thank the postal service for the critical work they are doing during this crisis, and how important it is to protect postal service employees from adverse harm,” according to the letter from lawmakers. “At the same time, our constituents depend on consistent mail service in order to receive their correspondence, bills and package(s), which may contain life-saving prescriptions.”
By April 6, the post office at West 238th was open for business — and the backlog at the Kingsbridge office was expected to clear as the postal service started shuffling employees around, Dinowitz told The Riverdale Press.
“What we’ve done is we’ve asked them to reassign people,” he said. “If you’re shorthanded in one place, you have to deal with it.”
Those issues seem to have continued into the 10471 ZIP code, with some residents there reporting there has been no mail since April 2. One person told The Press that when he called the post office to ask what was going on, he was told “people are dying,” and that “no mail is coming from downtown.”
Dinowitz asked those not getting their mail in a timely manner to have some understanding for what’s happening with postal workers, similar to what’s happening with many work forces as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit New York hard.
“We want our mail back, but I think people have to understand we are in this unprecedented situation,” Dinowitz said. “We also have to keep in mind that we should be concerned about the health and safety of the postal workers.”
The Assemblyman himself has waited for his government paycheck to be delivered.
Postal officials said they were prioritizing “small packages” as they started working on the backlog at the Kingsbridge office.
The postal service hasn’t provided a long-term plan for keeping up regular mail delivery for the long haul of the pandemic, Dinowitz said, but he and other elected officials intend to “stay on their backs” to make sure there isn’t another long lapse in services.
“If people can be assured of regular mail delivery — even if they don’t get it every single day — I think people would be happy,” Dinowitz said. “As long as they know their mail is actually going to be delivered.”
He had a word of advice for the post offices as they try to ensure essential deliveries — like paychecks and medications — get shipped out.
“This might be a good time for the post office to consider doing what we do, which is throw those catalogs into recycling,” Dinowitz said. “That could save some work.”