The death of one of their own brought the coronavirus home to local postal workers.
From the June, 2020 issue
Ann Arbor mail carrier John Odegard started wearing a mask in early April after he heard that a local postal worker being treated for coronavirus symptoms was fighting for his life. "Holy smokes," he recalls thinking. "This is real!"
Art Serafinski, sixty-one, a manager based in the W. Stadium post office, died on April 20. Shaken, Odegard says, he became "religious" about keeping both mask and gloves on. "I'm constantly wiping down my vehicle," he says. "When I get home, I put my clothes in the wash."
Postal employees are considered "essential workers," and in some jobs, "you just can't do social distancing," says an Ann Arbor employee who asked for anonymity. People sorting packages "can't keep ten feet apart from each other." Serafinski, who was director of personnel for Ann Arbor, shared an office and filled in at the counter when needed.
Keith Combs, president of the Detroit chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, says that Serafinski was one of four Michigan postal workers who'd died of the virus by mid-May, and "at different times, hundreds of employees have taken sick leave." Those include those "exposed" but not ill and others who stayed home because of virus-related family needs.
"Management definitely could have done a better job" in preventive measures, he says. "Some stations were not receiving masks and hand sanitizers until recently." The Ann Arbor office declined comment and referred the Observer to Detroit-based spokeswoman Elizabeth Najduch, who said the office "was not granting interviews at this time." The anonymous Ann Arbor employee says that the Ann Arbor branches were slow to provide masks, but that they do now. Plexiglas barriers to shield counter workers have also been added.
Odegard, president of the Ann Arbor local of the mail carriers' union, says he knows of "five or six confirmed cases" among the area's 200-some carriers, with others quarantining because they were judged at risk or their families needed them.
Odegard says that, while a few customers have complained of mail delays, "I've never seen the public so kind to us, even at Christmas time." Some have donated hand sanitizers and even toilet paper. But "we wonder what will happen when the [quarantine] order is lifted ... Will the public be respectful of the six-foot [distancing] thing?"
He's frustrated that "some people think it's a hoax." What does he tell them?
"No, it's real. Ask Art's family."
[Originally published in June, 2020.]
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