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Kent postal workers struggle with Covid-19 outbreak

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Postal workers in Kent are sounding the alarm after an outbreak of Covid-19 has left dozens sick at a facility in South King County.

Noel Pascual works at a postal facility in Kent. Currently, he's at home sick recovering from Covid-19, still struggling with headaches, but his sense of taste and smell is finally back.

He's one of 40 people who have tested positive for the virus recently, according to union officials from the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and American Postal Workers Union.

The Kent Priority Mail Annex has not returned a request for comment. A spokesperson with the U.S. Postal Service said their, "Liberal leave policy remains in effect through March 26, 2021. This means employees may continue to use annual leave and sick leave and leave without pay for reasons related to Covid-19," but did not clarify how many employees have tested positive for the virus.

Robert Ziegler, another worker who tested positive at the facility shared with KUOW a complaint he filed with the U.S. Post Service during the last week of December 2020. It stated to supervisors, "Mask wearing is inconsistent at best. Various employees, supervisors, and contractors fail to wear masks properly or at all and are not being corrected. Conversations on the floor routinely take place without masks and at closer than 6 ft. Please enforce mask policy for [the] health and safety of all."

Pascual confirmed that social distancing at work is not happening.

"It's really hard. We try to do as much as we can. We still have a lot of people in one building, especially when we take our break, everybody needs to eat and they take off their mask."

He says that he prefers to take his break in his car alone, far from his other coworkers.

Don Sneesby is with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Sneesby explains that the problem is two-fold: there's no proper health procedures at the work site and these workers are not eligible for the vaccine yet, despite coming into work since the pandemic started.

"When people think of postal workers, they think of letter carriers, who work outside and are not stuck in an office all day," Sneesby said. "But they forget about those of us who work in warehouses, and who can't socially distance."

Now Sneesby and his colleagues are asking Washington health officials to move them up in the vaccination queue.

"If you're a firefighter or a police officer, you're eligible for a vaccine now. But under Washington sguidelines, postal workers are not."

For their part, Department of Health officials say vaccine eligibility depends on an individual’s age and any health problems they may have.

As for any workplace violations, like improper mask usage or social distancing problems, those concerns go to Labor and Industries.

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