NEW BETHLEHEM — In a year plagued by a multitude of complications, even the U.S. Postal Service has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Having weathered the removal of high-speed sorting machines and proposed cuts to employee overtime earlier in 2020, the USPS now finds itself juggling an unprecedented level of holiday mail traffic.
Sharon Huth, New Bethlehem’s post master, also supervises a number of small postal facilities in outlying towns such as Hawthorn.
“We are all working longer hours this year,” Huth said. “I am covering the counter in New Bethlehem today because we could use more help.”
“It has been an interesting season for us,” she said. “We have been juggling a higher volume from the pandemic, and that has meant hiring more staff on a seasonal basis.”
It is not only because people are sending more Christmas cards this year. With social distancing disrupting traditional holiday gatherings, more families are mailing gifts rather than handing them out in person.
“So, not only are we handling more of our own business, but we also have to coordinate with the United Parcel Service to deliver packages.”
It is not uncommon to find a UPS truck backed up to the rear of a USPS vehicle, the respective drivers swapping packages in what is known as “the last mile” portion of a merchandise journey that may have begun on another continent.
For a system already bulging at the seams and springing leaks, weather events such as Wednesday’s heavy snowfall only exacerbate the problem. A delay in any part of the supply chain creates ripples of complications elsewhere.
The sheer volume of gifts mailed to recipients this year moved up the guaranteed-delivery date by several days. In an average year, this is usually sometime around Dec. 21. This year, it was during the week of Dec. 13.
Huth said that carriers have been doing a great job this busy year, and asked customers to be patient as deliveries continue.
The final volume tally for U.S. post offices will not be ready until sometime next year. Huth and her counterparts expect to have set records in December.