Standoffs with United States Postal Service mail carriers who refuse COVID-19 screenings are complicating deliveries at some local senior residences, managers say.

Among the facilities saying they’ve had the mail issues are Mount Vernon Towers senior condominium complex in Sandy Springs and Jewish HomeLife, which operates residences in Buckhead, Dunwoody and Johns Creek.
With seniors especially at risk for fatalities if they catch COVID-19, representatives say, the facilities have taken many precautions, including taking the temperature of visitors. But the Postal Service says it cannot require carries to comply due to privacy laws.

“Some USPS personnel refuse to have their temperature taken via a non-contact thermometer,” said Chris Peterson, executive director of Mount Vernon Towers, on March 27. “I have no idea why. In any case, apparently those who are willing to have their temperature taken have been told that they will be terminated for doing so as it would put pressure on those who aren’t willing to. It’s stupid and reckless to not allow your temperature to be taken, possibly endangering our population of 325-plus residents with an average age of 84 years old.”
As a compromise, the mail was left at Mount Vernon, then separated and delivered internally by staff members.

“Although the mailboxes supposedly belong to us, the post office won’t give us the keys, so the mail has to be delivered to the individual doors by my staff at this point. Fun times,” said Peterson.
Postal Service spokesperson Rick Badie said on March 30 that an “arrangement” had been made with Mount Vernon Towers, but he and Peterson did not respond to questions about what that arrangement is. Asked about screenings and issues at other facilities, Badie referred to the Postal Service website.

“While we understand customers’ desire to screen individuals entering their facilities, we cannot require our letter carriers to comply with such requests,” the Postal Service said in a statement posted to its website March 31. “Our carriers have privacy protections under federal laws… that may be violated if we require a carrier to be subjected to precautionary screenings by customers.”

For those concerned about COVID-19, the Postal Service suggested leaving a container for pickup elswhere, putting mail on hold at the post office, or forwarding mail to another address.

Jewish HomeLife — which has had COVID-19 cases among residents and staff – heard another story about screenings, according to spokesperson Shari Bayer. A mail carrier serving one of its facilities, she said, claimed Postal Service employees were being screened for COVID-19 at the post office. Bayer said that supposed policy was “not good enough for us.”

In the standoff, the “mail carrier refused to have their temperature taken, refused to take mail… and this went on for a week,” she said. “So now we have to set up delivery for our own residents.”

The process involves leaving a mail receptacle outside the building for carrier delivery and pickup, then sorting and delivering the mail themselves inside. Bayer said the staff has some questions about the legality of the process, since handling of the mail is restricted under federal law.

–John Ruch and Hannah Greco

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.