USPS Busy Season Woes Compounded by COVID-19

It’s not unusual to hear warnings from the U.S. Postal Service around the holidays regarding the timing of those Christmas packages. But when you add in a pandemic, even businesses and individuals that aren’t sending anything Christmas related are watching warily.

The Postal Service said this year it expects to deliver roughly 20 million packages a day during the holiday season, but that number sometimes exceeds 40 million a day.

That includes People Newspapers, which relies on the USPS to deliver Preston Hollow People and Park Cities People to the homes of our readers each month.

We received a missive from the National Newspaper Association this week that alerted us that many of the association’s 1,600 member papers are reporting systemwide problems getting papers delivered by mail.

“We want publishers to understand that these delays are not just in their markets, nor the result of failures by printers or mail preparers. This is happening partly because of COVID-19-related personnel absences, but mostly because of record numbers of packages in the mail,” NNA Chair Brett Wesner said. “We are in continuous conversation with the senior management at USPS about this problem.”

The other issue, the NNA reported, is that other delivery services like UPS and FedEx can decline and then defer packages to the USPS, which does not have the luxury of refusing to deliver.

“The private couriers, like United Parcel Service, can decline to accept packages. We are receiving reports in the mailing industry that the private networks are overloaded so packages are being deferred to the Postal Service, which cannot refuse to accept them,” Wesner said.

NNA said it expected service to improve after the holiday package season ends, but NNA cautioned that as vaccine deliveries are ramping up for the private couriers, USPS might still be the deliverer of last resort for packages displaced by the priority vaccine packages.

The USPS said that although it plans every year for peak holiday season, the historic volume of gifts – after all, if you’re not going to be with family at Christmas, you’re probably going to mail them presents – is combining with the pandemic to wreak havoc on those best-laid plans.

A statement from the postal service also said the delays would be temporary – albeit unavoidably ill-timed.

“Seasonal workers are hired when and where needed, and technology has been expanded to enhance package tracking throughout the USPS processing and transportation networks,” the USPS explained. “Sunday delivery expanded on Nov. 29 to locations with high package volumes. USPS already delivers packages on Sundays in most major cities. Mail carriers will also deliver packages for an additional fee on Christmas Day in select locations.”

The postal service also expanded package delivery windows by delivering in the morning, afternoon, and early evening where volume is high, and leased extra vehicles to expedite deliveries.

One local postal worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity called the situation a “crisis.”

“Some of us are working 60 to 70 hours a week,” the employee said.

Already a hectic season, the employee we spoke to said that COVID-19 has created situations where plants that are already at capacity are also dealing with COVID exposures as workers test positive, necessitating the two-week quarantine (or longer, if they actually contract the virus) of everyone that worked nearby.

In the meantime, the packages come unceasingly, and the extra manpower that usually gets the facilities through the holiday season becomes more and more scarce.

“We thank our customers for their continued support, and we are committed to making sure gifts and cards are delivered on time to celebrate the holidays,” said Kristin Seaver, chief retail and delivery officer of the Postal Service. “We also thank our 644,000 employees who are working tirelessly throughout these unique conditions to ensure the delivery of holiday gifts and greetings.

Seaver added, “We continue to flex our network including making sure the right equipment is available to sort, process and deliver a historic volume of mail and packages this holiday season.”

So pack your patience, and perhaps the holly-jolly attitude of the big bearded guy. It’s a weird year, and that means a weird Christmas, too. And if you just can’t wait for your issue of Preston Hollow People or Park Cities People, you can always find them at a nearby news rack next week, or a digital version in your email inbox by subscribing here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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