COVID-19: Death, Defiance and U.S. Postal Center Outbreak

The U.S. Postal Service center at 7550 East 53rd Place is likely to be declared an outbreak site later today.
The U.S. Postal Service center at 7550 East 53rd Place is likely to be declared an outbreak site later today. Google Maps
The standoff over COVID-19 continues between Denver officials and the feds in charge of a U.S. Postal Service center in Denver — and with word of at least one death of a USPS employee here, it could get even uglier in the coming days.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told us that the facility, at 7550 East 53rd Place, is expected to be formally listed as an outbreak location in a report due for release later today, June 3.

If that happens, it will mark nearly two weeks since the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment tried to temporarily close the center, which handles mail for the states of Colorado and Wyoming, over reports of five positive tests for the novel coronavirus...only to face defiance from the operation's overseers.

According to a U.S. Postal Service statement issued on May 21, "We strongly disagree with the Denver Public Health order, which was made without a visual verification, without advanced coordination with the team of postal employees working on these issues with Denver Public Health, and without the understanding of the Postal Service’s substantial, ongoing efforts to protect its employees and the public. We have provided Denver Public Health the necessary documentation to satisfy their inquiry and are confident the order will be rescinded."

Since then, the center has kept running — but that doesn't mean the folks at DDPHE are happy about it. A statement from the department provided to Westword begins with this: "Denver public health officials continue serious conversations with the United States Postal Service regarding the critical importance of compliance with public health orders and the necessary cooperation regarding the investigation of COVID-19 cases associated with USPS facilities."

While the DDPHE "is still confirming case numbers," it continues, "we can report that there has been one death involving a COVID-19 positive employee of the USPS in Denver. This situation requires close communication to ensure all necessary controls are in place to prevent disease transmission; the controls are needed to protect USPS employees and the visiting public.

"While all positive cases of COVID-19 must be reported via Colorado's Electronic Disease Reporting System (CEDRS), we are unable to definitively connect these cases to a known outbreak without performing the essential function of outbreak investigation. The process explores the possibility of transmission within the USPS facility, as well as the likelihood of community transmission (transmission of the virus outside of the facility itself), to determine whether the cases are part of an outbreak tied to a USPS facility."

Because none of this process has begun, the department's inquiry remains incomplete. The DDPHE statement ends with this: "We hope to make progress towards working directly with local USPS representatives to conduct a thorough outbreak investigation to determine if there is internal transmission at their facilities."

In other words, the war between Denver and the U.S. Postal Service rages on — and weeks later, we still don't know how bad the situation might be at 7550 East 53rd Place.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts