Rural mail carrier Patrick Dapolito offers a greeting Wednesday along his route in Chelsea.

AUGUSTA — Patrick Dapolito’s mail carrying job, already vital, is getting more dangerous.

Dapolito, a rural carrier assistant in Augusta, brings mail to more than 600 people along his route, delivering mail to people hunkered down at their homes as the coronavirus pandemic demands continuation of mail delivery.

As of Sunday afternoon, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention confirmed 633 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths in the state. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has recommended all people wear protective face masks when in public and continue with social distancing.

Debrah Maddox, a district representative from the Rural Letter Carriers Association and a rural carrier in Augusta, said the United States Postal Service’s rural carriers are having trouble with social distancing.

“When rural carriers go to the door, there is a little concern there with social distancing,” she said. “Little kids will come up and get packages and the mail carrier says, ‘No, no please.'”

Rural mail carrier Patrick Dapolito delivers Wednesday along his route in Chelsea.

Dapolito, who lives in Rome, said three concerns are swirling around his mind before he begins work: Safety, cleanliness and the health of others.

He said he is always looking to indicate to customers he is doing everything he can to maintain a social distance. It is difficult, he said, because some customers want to talk more than ever because they are isolated at home and may not have any visitors.

“It’s all fine and dandy, but the excitement goes above and beyond,” Dapolito said. “You’ve got to maintain that distance for your (and the customer’s) safety.

“The concern is that I’ve already been to 300 houses, I don’t know if I picked it up. I don’t want to be the one to potentially expose them.”

Maddox said local post offices are now receiving shipments of protective masks and hand sanitizer, including some of the latter made by local distilleries. She said carriers are instructed to clean their vehicles every day, wash or sanitize their hands often, wear gloves and avoid touching their faces.

Maddox said mail volume is down for the postal service, while package numbers have increased. She also said there are greater costs due to cleaning measures and the need to buy personal protective equipment for the post office, which has been steadily losing money.

A February announcement from the USPS reported a net loss of $748 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2020, which spans Oct. 1, 2019, to Dec 31, 2019. The announcement said the decrease “reflects continued systemic challenges.”

Maddox said postal service officials have been “liberal” in allowing employees to leave if worried about contracting the coronavirus. She said such departures can create issues in covering Augusta’s rural mail routes, which are handled by 16 employees, including Dapolito and other substitutes.

Maddox said there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus at Augusta area post offices.

Maddox said there have been concerns when a case was found within the postal service, but she has been assured there are measures in place to protect employees. She said carriers with whom she has spoken are concerned about contracting the virus.

“It does automatically put up anxiety with people,” Maddox said. “We’re out in the public all the time. Most of our routes are in the vicinity of 45 to 58 miles, and probably close to 500 or 600 customers.”

Dapolito said he was worried about a potential furlough, but he was more concerned about getting people what they need and keeping himself and his customers safe. He said if the postal service were to pause service, it would have great impact.

“We’re delivering medications to everybody that can’t go to the pharmacy now,” Dapolito said. “We go to almost every house every day. It would impact people beyond what they know.”

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