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US: Postal carriers, delivery workers keep Americans safe at home during coronavirus

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BROOMFIELD, Colorado — Step by step, block by block, letter by letter, Amy Bezerra is helping her customers ride out the coronavirus outbreak from the safety of their homes.

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With each practiced flip of a mailbox lid, Bezerra reassures another household that, although the coronavirus has upended much of society, many basic services are running like clockwork.

"It makes me feel good that I'm out there helping people," said Bezerra, 51. "It makes me feel good that they can stay in, especially if they are older or have health issues, and I can be out here to help them."

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Bezerra, a 24-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service, is one of tens of thousands of essential workers throughout the country making it possible for Americans to limit their movement. People like her deliver packages containing prescription medications, games for kids, equipment to help people work from home and even baking supplies.

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The Postal Service, Amazon, FedEx and UPS report they're delivering more packages. Bezerra said it’s approaching the volume usually seen around Christmas. A Postal Service spokesman said carriers could even tell when stimulus checks began to hit bank accounts because deliveries began increasing within days.

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But USPS said the amount of first-class mail — letters — has dropped so dramatically that even with the rise in parcel deliveries, overall volume is down about 25%. The drop in revenue is so severe that earlier this month the Postal Service received permission to borrow up to $10 billion to weather the coronavirus outbreak. That may be just a stopgap measure for the service, which has run a deficit for years.

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Bezerra, whose route has more than 500 households, said she's seen the shift herself: far fewer letters from companies advertising services and many more Amazon packages.

Critics of the Postal Service have seized upon its tenuous financial situation to revive arguments for privatizing it.

USPS supporters say it's an essential government service like building roads or having a military, and it shouldn't be expected to turn a profit when it delivers to virtually any valid address in the country, six days a week, usually for the same price.

That debate predates the coronavirus pandemic, though carriers have seen major changes in the last few weeks.

Bezerra said she prefers to stay out of that conversation. Her job, she said, is to serve her customers, many of whom she's accustomed to seeing as she makes deliveries on the winding streets of this suburb northwest of Denver. 

Losing that contact, she said, is the biggest change for delivery workers like her.

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The restrictions on personal contact have changed how delivery workers handle their jobs. Bezerra, for instance, wears a mask when she's working alongside colleagues sorting mail, but not when she's walking or driving the neighborhoods alone to deliver. 

Because health experts say the risk of getting exposed to the coronavirus from letters and packages is low, Bezerra said she’s doesn't wear gloves while delivering mail. A yellow cloth mask dangles around her neck if she needs to get close to people. 

Neither the Postal Service nor UPS requires customers to sign for packages right now. Instead, workers note that packages were delivered during the outbreak and add their own name to the receipt for accountability.

"I know I have a job to do and I'm going to continue to do that but it does break my heart, knowing how affected so many people are by this pandemic," said UPS driver Steve Lopez, 54, in a video provided by the company.

UPS company spokesman Dan McMackin said employees there are proud to keep America running under such challenging circumstances.

"Right now, they are getting the attention they deserve for doing what they always do — connecting people with the things they need to live their lives and run their businesses," said McMackin, a former driver. "And beyond the connections they make with individuals, they are also helping keep the economy moving."

Jeanne Simpson, 66, said she depends on Bezerra's deliveries. She was impressed with how quickly she was able to mail a car part for repair and get it back.

Simpson said she heard the Postal Service was struggling, so she rushed out to buy stamps and mail participation certificates to members of her singing group.

Last week, she excitedly waved a handful of letters Bezerra had just dropped off.

"It's so important, especially when you’re expecting checks," Simpson said. "Not so much the bills and the junk mail, but magazines. Obviously we're looking for anything to read."

Bezerra said her customers, many of whom she's known for years, have written uplifting messages on the sidewalks she treads.

”This too shall pass with time,” read one.

“Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen,” read another.

Residents of one neighborhood have started hiding a rubber mouse in different mailboxes as a kind of treasure hunt for Bezerra. She plays along by moving it from box to box. 

They're all ways of letting one another know she’s still out delivering every day, even if she doesn’t actually see them as much. 

All that is a big change from the days when she saw people mowing their lawns, washing their cars and playing in their front yard as she made her rounds.

"The hardest part is not seeing your customers," she said, "because they are really working on social distancing and having respect for us being out here and working in the time of COVID."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Postal carriers, delivery workers keep Americans safe at home during coronavirus

Coronavirus live updates: Senate reconvenes; J.Crew files for bankruptcy; Pence regrets not wearing mask .
The Senate reconvenes as more states across the country reopen their economies. A new report says China hid the outbreak's severity.

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