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Post office takes precautions

Employees using preventive measures to combat threat of anthrax attack

Doug Crowl

— A sign of the times can be found in the new option of the 800 number for the U.S. Postal Service’s electronic information system.

After choosing a language, the caller is asked to press 1 to hear the latest safety security measures the post office is taking.

“Press 1 if you have received suspicious-looking mail,” the ensuing computer voice says. “For preventative measures the postal service is taking to protect the public, press 2. For the status of mail delivery and post office closures, press 3.”

Although anthrax attacks through the U.S. Postal Service haven’t been found any farther west than Washington, D.C., precautions are being taken locally as part of a national effort.

“Yes, we are taking appropriate precautions for those who feel comfortable in doing that,” Steamboat Springs Postmaster Bill Butler said.

However, Butler wouldn’t comment any further.

Al DeSarro, postal service spokesman for the western states, said post office employees in Steamboat and throughout the country are given the option to wear gloves and a mask when handling mail.

“They also are getting trained on what to look for in a suspicious piece of mail,” he said.

Though the threat of an anthrax attack seems remote in Steamboat Springs, there has been some concern raised about mail going through postal facilities in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey where anthrax has been found and then sent to the rest of the United States.

DeSarro said no reports have indicated mail has been infected and sent to Colorado or that the possibility of it happening is a reality. About 75 percent of Colorado’s mail is sent and received within the region.

“There is a very remote chance that such a piece would make it out here,” DeSarro said.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Postal Service is looking into buying equipment to sanitize the mail, called “irradiation equipment.” DeSarro said it would further guarantee the mail’s safety and continuance.

The local post office isn’t the only place taking some preventive actions. Employees for the U.S. Forest Service, which receives ample amounts of mail from Washington, D.C., are handling mail with gloves, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said.

“We don’t have those fears, necessarily,” she said. “But we are taking precautions.”

Employees are being asked to wash their hands after touching the mail, and there has been some thought to move the mailroom to a location in the building where there aren’t as many people, Pipher said.

It’s not a bad idea to take some precautions, as long as people are well informed about what the true risks are, explained Patsy Ford, Routt County Public Health team leader. However, she added that the risks can be hard to identify, which adds to some fears with the issue.

“There are a lot of unknowns with bioterrorism, and that’s the problem,” she said.

It isn’t clear how serious the anthrax attacks in the United States really are, with new findings uncovered every day. Plus, other bioterrorism concerns, such as smallpox and the plague, are lurking out there, and the extent of the country’s vulnerability isn’t known, she said.

“Relatively speaking, until we have a documented case in Colorado, we are at less risk,” Ford said.

But washing hands and being extra cautious about personal hygiene are good preventive measures, not only in a time of bioterrorism, but as a general rule for staying healthy, Ford said.


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