Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series on those whose jobs have been deemed “essential” during the coronavirus outbreak and for whom working “safer at home” is not an option. Suggestions for future profiles of those who help keep us fed, safe and mobile can be sent to email@example.com.
Jeff Mellor, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier in Madison, has worked for the agency for 26 years — through 9/11, the anthrax scare and Wisconsin’s Act 10 protests — but he hasn’t seen anything disrupt everyday life in the city like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Mellor would deliver to businesses along his route, and develop friendships with employees he saw on a daily basis as he dropped off the mail. On the residential part of his route, people would come out of their homes to say hello and strike up a conversation.
For those on his route who are elderly or those who don’t have anyone to talk to, “We’re the constant in their life,” he said.
But, over the past month, Mellor’s job has become more solitary as the pandemic has made its way into Dane County. A few businesses on his route have closed, some are working with a skeleton staff in the office and almost everyone has put up some type of barrier or an external access point for him to drop off the mail to comply with social distancing guidelines, he said.
And, these days, some of his drop offs require a bit more personal information from Mellor before he’s able to enter the facility.
“Clinics, to get into one I had to have my temperature taken and questions asked about my health,” he said.
In residential areas, he’ll see children outside playing with their parents but he’s unable to greet them or strike up a conversation with them like he used to. Often, the children will run up to Mellor to say hello but he now has to stop them before they get too close.
“Their parents are telling them the same thing. Pretty much every place I go, everybody is aware of the distancing and keeps their distance,” he said.
Although social distancing guidelines have made his route more solitary, evidence of countywide compliance helps him to feel safe. New behaviors adopted by recipients on his route, meant to help slow the spread of COVID-19, mean people are trying to help keep him healthy as well.
“No matter where you go, you have a chance of getting (COVID-19),” he said. “I don’t feel any more threatened at work than I do anywhere else.”
Access to personal protective equipment helps his outlook as well.
The Postal Service provides carriers such as Mellor with hand sanitizer, gloves and masks to use if they wish, and drop-off locations have also offered gloves and masks for him to use as he makes his way through his route. But it’s not just the need for protective equipment that makes Postal Service employees uneasy.
The Postal Service was suffering financially before COVID-19, but after the pandemic hit, economists estimated it could become financially illiquid, or unable to meet obligations such as payroll and other expenses, by the end of September.
The White House rejected a proposed bailout of the Postal Service in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, signed by President Donald Trump in March. The Postal Service projects it will lose $2 billion each month through the coronavirus recession, according to the Washington Post.
Mellor said he has opinions about the White House decision but didn’t feel at liberty to share them. But he is heartened by the outpouring of support he’s experienced on his delivery route.
“The people I see each day, I know are appreciative that we’re all doing what we do,” he said.
The virus has caused many people, including Mellor, to slow down or pause aspects of their everyday life instead of running full tilt all the time. The changing season has made some people restless with a new abundance of free time on their hands, which might be especially difficult for families with children who are out of school and suffering from cabin fever.
But Mellor has a suggestion for families who are struggling to find ways to occupy their children’s time.
“Have them sit down and write a letter to their grandma or their friend. I know when I grew up, there was nothing better than getting a personal letter from somebody. Draw a little picture, take some time to put some personal effort into it,” he said, to brighten someone’s day during this troubling time.