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Mail, parcels thought to be safe for carriers and recipients

It is believed safe to handle and receive mail and packages and there is no evidence COVID-19 is being spread through the mail, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” WHO says on its website.

COVID-19 is thought to be spread mainly person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the CDC says.

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to the CDC.

If the economy is stressed during the current emergency, it would come to a dangerous and immediate halt without deliveries from the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, United Parcel Service and other carriers.

WHO says it is not certain how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it appears to behave like other coronaviruses, which means it can persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days and can vary under different conditions depending on the type of surface and the temperature or humidity of the environment.

WHO advises that, “If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.”

The U.S. Postal Service employs roughly 82,000 mail carriers across the country — 75,000 who drive to neighborhoods and deliver on foot and 7,000 who carry only on foot — delivering almost 200 million pieces of mail a day.

The National Postal Mail Handlers Union on Tuesday told its members that, in addition to the CDC and WHO, “the U.S. Surgeon General, and the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have all indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. The opinions of the health experts continues to be that risk to employees is low.”

The union said the postal service makes gloves and masks available to employees who request them — though there have been some issues with supply — but notes that the CDC does not recommend that healthy people wear masks to protect themselves from COVID-19.

According to The New York Times, as of Sunday the USPS said fewer than 30 of its 630,000 employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement earlier this week, the USPS said, “We are encouraging healthy behaviors and protocols, including frequent hand washing, use of sanitizers, and additional cleaning of work spaces, and are encouraging any employee who feels they are sick to stay home.”

To reduce risks inside post offices, the service is also temporarily modifying customer signature capture procedures. “While maintaining a safe, appropriate distance, employees will request the customer’s first initial and last name so that the employee can enter the information on the electronic screen or hard copy items such as return receipts.”

“For increased safety, employees will politely ask the customer to step back a safe distance or close the screen [door] ... so that they may leave the item in the mail receptacle or appropriate location by the customer door,” the USPS said.

The USPS said it performs a vital public service delivering essentials such as medications and Social Security checks and that it is the leading delivery service for online purchases.

Virginia health commissioner tells doctors not to prescribe, hoard drugs for COVID-19

In a letter emailed to physicians and pharmacies on Wednesday, Virginia’s state health commissioner warned against improperly prescribing or hoarding drugs purported — but not proven — to be useful in treating COVID-19 that are needed for patients with other serious illnesses.

“In the most recent days, there has been a surge in demand of potential treatments for COVID-19 for drugs commonly used to treat malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, bacterial infections and other conditions,” wrote Norman Oliver. “This is leading to an inadequate medication supply for patients already taking these medications for chronic conditions and hospitalized COVID-19 patients being treated with these medications under facility-specific treatment protocols while studies are ongoing.”

Oliver added that there are currently no antiviral drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. Some studies suggest there may be potential therapeutic effect of some agents against related coronaviruses, he said.

“But there are no available data from observational studies or randomized controlled trials in humans for the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to support recommending any investigational therapeutics for patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 at this time,” Oliver wrote in his letter, sent to more than 68,000 prescribers and pharmacists across the state.

A story in the New York Times on Tuesday said doctors are hoarding medications touted as possible coronavirus treatments by writing prescriptions for themselves and family members, according to pharmacy boards in states across the country.

Stockpiling in Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas has led the boards in those states to issue emergency restrictions or guidelines on how the drugs can be dispensed at pharmacies.

Oliver’s letter said the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Health Professions recommends the following:

  • Prescriptions for chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, mefloquine and azithromycin should be restricted in the outpatient setting and should require a diagnosis “consistent with the evidence for its use.”
  • Community pharmacists should use professional judgment to determine whether a prescription is valid and that there is a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship prior to dispensing.
  • Prioritize treatment for continuation of existing medication therapy, inpatient settings and other indications where there is not an alternative therapy.
  • Advise against hoarding these medications or stockpiling.

The coronavirus and Virginia: Here's what you need to know

Here are answers to some common questions about the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illness in animals and humans. The most recently discovered coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, in December. The illness it causes is called COVID-19. The World Health Organization has declared a pandemic, and President Donald Trump has announced a national emergency.

As of Wednesday, the number of cases in the U.S. was about 55,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, there are about 414,000 cases, and more than 18,400 people have died, according to WHO.

What are the symptoms?

COVID-19 can produce flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, tiredness and shortness of breath, according to WHO.

Emergency warning signs for the virus include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, or inability to arouse, the CDC says. People developing those warning signs are encouraged to get medical attention immediately.

Older people and people with underlying medical problems — asthma, diabetes or heart disease, for example — are more likely to develop serious illness, according to WHO.

How does it spread?

The virus spreads mostly through respiratory droplets produced when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

According to the CDC, the virus also spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). The federal agency also says a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

What is the incubation period?

Symptoms appear within 14 days of someone being exposed to an infectious person, according to the CDC.

What preventive steps can you take?

The Virginia Department of Health suggests the following:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick. (WHO says to stay 6 feet away from someone who is sick.)
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you can’t do that, use hand sanitizer.
  • If you’re sick, stay home.
  • Make sure you cover your mouth and nose — not with your hands — when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The CDC says to talk to your employer about its emergency operations plans.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

The CDC recommends doing the following if you are sick:

  • Stay home, except to get medical care. Stay in a specific room and away from other people, and use a separate bathroom if possible. Don’t handle pets or other animals.
  • Call ahead before your doctor’s appointment and tell them that you might have the coronavirus. This will help the doctor take steps to make sure other people aren’t exposed.
  • Wear a face mask if you are sick.
  • Again, cover your coughs and sneezes (not with your hands), wash your hands often and clean “high-touch” items often.

Should you travel?

The Virginia Department of Health recommends against nonessential travel. If you do travel, the CDC says to monitor your health for two weeks after your trip.