Anthrax Changes Everything

students at the University of Florida (1999 photo)
As authorities try to figure out who is behind the anthrax attacks, and how to protect the public, Americans affected by the scare - but not the spores - are changing their daily routines.

In North Pole, Alaska, letters to Santa Claus have been coming in at the usual rate - about a hundred a week.

What isn't usual is that they haven't been opened.

Typically, each letter that arrives at the North Pole post office gets a personal reply, and a North Pole postal cancellation mark.

Letters from Santa are written by volunteers from Alaska, as well as other states, and processed by the post office in Fairbanks.

Fairbanks Postmaster Raymond Clark says he's waiting for word from Washington on what to do, but it's possible that this year's letters might not be opened at all, because of anthrax found at other postal facilities.

While youngsters wait for word from Santa, teens wary of using the mail are scrambling to come up with new ways to turn in their college applications.

Erin Matthews grew up 15 miles from Princeton University, but decided just last week that it had everything she wanted in a college. Days before the early decision deadline, she hurried to complete the 31-page application.

Not confident about trusting her Ivy League dreams to a postal system beset by anthrax, college counselors hand-delivered the application. Others were sent overnight, using private package-delivery companies.

"Had they sent it regular mail, we probably would have all panicked," said Matthews, 17, a senior at The Peddie School in Hightstown. "It's the next four years of your life - and whatever happens after that."

Princeton said it would accept applications even if they arrive weeks late as long as they're postmarked by Nov. 1. Anyone who recently mailed an application has been asked to fax the first four pages to the admissions office.

The stress of applying for college is even more acute in New Jersey, home to a regional mail facility that handled at least three letters contaminated with anthrax. It has been closed for testing and cleanup.

The post office serving Princeton shut down late last week after tests detected an anthrax spore on a mail bin.

"I thought, 'Uh oh. They're really going to get anxious and concerned,' " said Fred Hargadon, Princeton's dean of admissions. "I mean, they get anxious and concerned about applying to college anyway."

Other colleges still don't know yet how their mail will be affected.

Some American University mail is processed by Washington, D.C.'s contaminated Brentwood facility. The university has received some mail, even though the facility is closed.

"We're unsure whether we're getting all our mail," university spokesman Todd Sedmak said. "We're definitely keeping an eye on it."

Rutgers University will ask guidance counselors to fax transcripts and is encouraging online applications, spokeswoman Sandra Lanman said.

Some schools and parents are concerned about SAT scores. Educaional Testing Service, the company that administers the test, is headquartered in Princeton.

The College Board, the exam's New York-based owner, said in a statement that it has received nearly all score reports from October. It expects delays but no major problems.

Some parents from The Peddie School had offered to collect and mail applications in nearby Pennsylvania, but the school settled on using package-delivery companies.

"Then we don't have to worry about somebody else's mail system going down," college counselor Ted de Villafranca said. "And we don't have to worry about our mail getting stuck somewhere locally."

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