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Can the coronavirus spread through the mail?

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Reports of postal workers testing positive for the novel coronavirus have raised concerns that the pathogen could live on letters and packages, potentially exposing people to infection just from opening their mail or Amazon packages. The U.S Postal Service's response: Don't worry about it

"There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through the mail," the postal service said last weekend, alluding to the disease caused by the virus and citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as its sources of information. 

The federal agency, which employs about 500,000 people, is heeding recommendations from the CDC and public health departments, it added. 

"The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low," according to WHO. 

"In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," according to the CDC. "Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods."

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One postal worker in Raleigh, Virginia, two USPS employees in White Plains, New York, and a worker at a USPS package-sorting facility outside of Seattle have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. USPS also said it is aware of an employee in New Orleans who may have contracted COVID-19. 

But the "incident is not mail-related, and it has not been confirmed by the local public-health department," a spokesperson for the USPS' Dallas and Louisiana districts said Saturday in a statement

That incident involved a USPS facility that employs letter carriers and clerks, and that has a retail counter and service window for customers, along with a P.O. box section where people can get their mail. "At this time, we believe the risk is low for both our employees and customers as a result of this unconfirmed case," the USPS said.

Fear of getting the coronavirus had residents at one senior living community in Oak Park, Illinois, reportedly avoiding their mail last week because the mail carrier refused to be questioned and take a temperature check. 

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"The Postal Service recognizes that some customers have expressed concerns about accepting mail, and a few have asked for unusual measures for deliveries. Our operational protocol does not require any Postal Service employee to follow requests outside of normal delivery methods," the service told the Chicago Tribune.

The virus has led other companies that handle lots of packages to try to ease customer concerns. Amazon notes that Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery customers can pick "unattended delivery" during checkout if they'd rather not come into contact with others. 

And to protect customers and workers, FedEx has temporarily suspended the need for a signature for most deliveries in the U.S. The shipping giant also regularly disinfects the equipment used to make deliveries, according to FedEx President Raj Subramaniam.

UPS drivers are now validating and recording the name of the recipient of the package in lieu of getting a signature, the shipper said in a statement on Monday. 

Reiterating that the CDC and WHO view the likelihood of the a coronavirus contaminating cardboard or other shipping containers as low, UPS added in an email to CBS on Wednesday: "If there is a concern, disinfecting the shipment or using protective apparel when unwrapping the container will reduce the risk of exposure."

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