Around this time last year, Washington State University Mail Services delivery drivers were navigating through throngs of students to drop off letters and packages across the WSU Pullman campus.
The picture is quite different given the social distancing measures for COVID-19.
“It is very quiet. We’ve had a huge drop in the amount of incoming mail for students because very few of them came back after spring break,” said Mailing Services Supervisor Joy Rich. “But just because there aren’t a lot of people around doesn’t mean there isn’t any mail to deliver.”
Rich and her staff of four are responsible for processing and delivering more than a million pieces of U.S. Postal Service mail each year as well as managing interdepartmental mail.
Under normal circumstances, WSU policy requires that there be a person available at all locations receiving mail deliveries. Typically, this would require one of Rich’s drivers to carry multiple mail totes full of mail from building to building across campus, interacting with people all along the way. When no one is present, mail is returned to Mailing Services in the Cooper Publications Building and delivered the following business day.
However, due to Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, it was quickly realized this would no longer be possible.
“Before a letter or package arrives at your door it has been handled by a lot of different people, and we realized this could be a safety issue with COVID-19,” said Edward Sala, assistant executive director of Design and Printing Services, which oversees Mailing Services. “We decided we needed to minimize the amount of contacts that our folks had to have by asking people to combine their mail stops into a single place.”
Departments and units across the Pullman campus answered the call by consolidating their mailstops into a single location. For example, the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture combined its 10 mail stops in four different buildings into a single location in the Dean’s Office.
Overall, the number of mailstops at WSU Pullman has gone from 280 before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to around 20 currently.
Other units and areas on campus willing to consolidate their mail delivery can contact Rich at 509-335-2365. Faculty and staff can also request Mailing Services hold their mail at the Cooper Publications Building for pick up Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. by filling out a request form and returning it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If staffing in an area does not support mail forwarding to another zip code or pick-up at Cooper, Mail Services can help make arrangements to deliver mail to a secure building location. Building coordinators can contact Rich to set up a drop point.
“We are trying to make as many options available as possible while at the same time keeping the mail secure,” Sala said. “Overall, I think people are finding they can live with a mail drop or pickup once a week instead of daily.”
Importance of essential employees
Rich’s team are just a few of the essential employees who continue to show up to work on campuses across the WSU system. At WSU Everett, for example, Facilities Manager Bobby Christenson and Safety Officer Sean McNaughton handle everything that requires in-person work from supporting students who need food from the Cougar Food Pantry to maintaining wireless hotspots and delivering mail.
The Vancouver campus has about 30 facilities operations employees on site daily, and at WSU Tri-Cities there are around 15 men and women performing duties that pertain to maintenance, custodial services, IT, copy center (which includes mail service) and security at any given time.
Rich said essential employees outside of her unit have been a big help getting the mail out every day at WSU Pullman.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the other folks who are coming into campus every day,” Rich said. “For example, when we ran out of hand sanitizer, Environmental Health and Safety stepped up and called to offer us some. That was really nice of them to do. We have also had amazing IT support.”