Friday, October 19, 2001/lk
Despite the recent cases of anthrax being sent through the mail, it's business as usual at the Hood River Post Office.
"We've had the same systems in place for years for handling hazardous materials," said Postmaster Kevin Branson. But, along with the U.S. Postal Service nationwide, Branson began making latex gloves and face masks available this week to workers who want them.
"They're available and we won't fault anyone for wearing them," he said. But, he said, the main emphasis has been on keeping employees informed and alert.
"There's a big push (by employees) for information, and we're trying to fulfill that," Branson said. Awareness bulletins are being issued daily by the U.S. Postal Service, and Branson is making sure employees get all the facts related to the cases and the potential threats.
He said postal workers are on heightened alert for certain things, including odd shaped letters or parcels; mail with too much postage; letters or parcels with stained wrapping; and mail with no return address.
"Nothing without a return address flies," Branson said. "If a customer doesn't want to put a return address on a parcel, it goes by ground."
He said some Hood River postal workers have been apprehensive, but not fearful. Most appreciate that Hood River is a small community, and the likelihood of something sinister happening here is remote.
Postal worker Jeff Loeffler isn't concerned and doesn't plan on wearing gloves or a mask -- or taking any other special precautions. Like Branson, he thinks the best antidote to the spreading anxiety is information.
"I can appreciate people's concerns," he said. "But basically, you have a lot of uninformed people that catch bits and pieces of information."
"This seems to be more of a psychological hazard than a biological one," said Branson who, based on his years in the military, rates anthrax "right up there with poison oak.
"You don't want it, but it's curable."
He encourages everyone -- postal employees and customers alike -- to become informed and "just be alert." He also warns that anyone looking to play on the current fear with hoaxes will be dealt with seriously.
"They're going to investigate everything," he said. "Whether it ends up being a hoax or not, there will be serious consequences.
"As far as the mail, we're going to deliver it and give the best customer service we can."