The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

You've Got Mail?

Mary Humphrey stepped back and carefully sureyed the long table full of misplaced mail in Station No. 2's Tuttle mailroom.

"Mail always gets messed up," she said, preparing for the ominous task of sorting the hundreds of envelopes by slipping on a pair of latex gloves. "We never know what to expect, or what's going to come through."

Anthrax Awareness
What should make me suspect a piece of mail?
  • It's unexpected or from someone you don't know.
  • It's addressed to someone no longer at your address.
  • It's handwritten and has no return address or bears one that you can't confirm is legitimate.
  • It's lopsided or lumpy in appearance.
  • It's sealed with excessive amounts of tape.
  • It's marked with restrictive endorsements such as "Personal" or "Confidential."
  • It has excessive postage.
What should I do with a suspicious piece of mail?
  • Don't handle a letter or package that you suspect is contaminated.
  • Don't shake it, bump it, or sniff it.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Notify local law enforcement authorities.


The events of Sept. 11 have spotlighted the jobs of fire and rescue workers as thousands of lives were lost and more put at risk in the recovery efforts. Now, it's the postal workers' turn. With the nationwide anthrax scare in it's fourth week and the death of two U.S. Postal Service employees, postal workers all over the country are taking precautions and looking at their job in a whole new light.

The University is no exception.

"They've given us certain guidelines, like the wrong spelling on letters and packages," said Kendall Carter, the supervisor of Station No. 2. "But the problem is, the mail is like that - misspelled words, wrong numbers. Half the mail we deal with is like that."

On a given day at Station No. 2, at least 200 packages will arrive along with hundreds more letters.

Carter and Humphrey, a postal assistant, said they always have inspected letters and packages carefully before putting them in recipients' mail boxes. But since anthrax has dominated the news, their usual precautions have taken on a new importance.

Humphrey has taped a small newspaper clipping detailing the precautionary course of action for "Once anthrax is let loose," near the sorting table. Although neither Humphrey nor Carter see anthrax as a direct threat to the University, they both recognize the importance of being prepared for the unexpected.

"I really don't think anyone would be targeting random students," said Carter of Station No. 2's recipients, first-year students and those living in upper-class on-Grounds housing. "Maybe if [terrorists] wanted to make a statement against Thomas Jefferson or something since he wrote the Declaration of Independence," he pondered jokingly.

"It could be anywhere," Humphrey said of the anthrax that continues to be found in various locations nationwide. "I worry more about if it's in our food or vegetables."

Latex gloves and masks have been provided for the postal workers at Stations No. 1 and No. 2, but Marshall Hunt, the director of financial management for housing, under whom the two stations' mail services fall, said workers are not required to use them.

"We've made these things available," Hunt said. "We've made sure our people are informed about the situation. You have to do everything in your power to protect them."

And the new latex gloves offer many employees at least a minimal sense of security from the anthrax threat.

"The gloves are nice just in case," said Humphrey, adding that she usually wears them anyway to prevent cutting her hands on the hundreds of envelopes and packages she handles daily. "We don't open any mail here, but a lot of it does come already open."

The postal workers also have been advised to monitor any flu-like symptoms they experience.

"They do tell us that if we go to the doctor with flu symptoms, that we should tell them we work for the postal services" so they are aware of the risk of anthrax, Humphrey said. Despite the warnings and precautions however, Humphrey insisted "it really doesn't bother me."

"I feel so insulated," added Carter. "I do have some concerns, I just don't want anyone to get hurt."

The other sector of the University's mail services includes the post offices at Newcomb Hall and McKim Hall, through which mail for academic departments, the University Hospital and Brown College is received. This area is managed through a contract with Pitney Bowes Management Services, a company that serves several other universities as well as Fortune 500 companies and organizations in the legal industry.

Dori Abel, Pitney Bowes vice president of marketing, said that the company has been in constant contact with the U.S. Postal Service and the Center for Disease Control regarding the anthrax situation.

"We have not had any university or office impacted," Abel said. "We are staying on top of any developments."

Abel said that even before anthrax appeared on the scene, Pitney Bowes had a comprehensive procedure for examining and handling the mail, including checking carefully for excessive postage or wrapping, lack of return address, leaking, bulkiness, discoloration or strange odors.

"All of our employees know there is an escalation procedure, whether it is U.Va. or a financial firm in New York," she said.

At the community and state level, additional precautions also are being taken. Dorothy Webster, the Richmond district manager of consumer affairs for the U.S. Postal Service, said 260 postal facilities nationwide currently are being tested. The Richmond plant, which serves as the hub for central Virginia, including Charlottesville and Norfolk, was one of the first 30 plants to be tested this week.

According to Webster, Charlottesville's mail goes through either the Richmond plant or the one in Culpeper. It depends on whether the mail arrived and where it came from, she said.

"There have been four or five incidents of substances in the mail since Sept. 18 that have caused our facilities to shut down for several hours," Webster said. But none of the facilities were found to have anthrax or other harmful substances.

University spokewoman Louise Dudley said precautions and procedures also are being taken at the University level.

"There is a lot of thinking and advanced planning and 'what if' approaches being taken," Dudley said. "I think that what they want is not for people to overreact, but just to be aware of the situation."

Overreacting does not seem to be a problem, as many University students seem aware of the threat of anthrax, but do not themselves feel endangered.

"It's the idea of being on a college campus, being in a bubble," said first-year College student Katie Yrazabal as she opened up a package in the Emmet mailroom at Station No. 1.

Some students, such as first-year Engineering student Marc Johansen, are used to the current precautions because they already have had to deal with terrorist threats during their lifetime.

Johansen used to live in Saudi Arabia and said his family was evacuated from their home during the Gulf War. He also recalled being close to the terrorist attacks on the U.S.S. Cole.

"I'm used to hearing about all this anti-terrorism stuff," said Johansen as he turned the combination for his Humphreys mailbox in the Emmet . "It's second nature for me."

But the threat of terrorism is new for most University students, and, for some, the fear hit close to home.

"I just thought it's something you only see on TV," said third-year College student Jasmine Yoon. Yoon's father is a U.S. Postal Service employee in Alexandria, Va., not far from some of the sites that recently have been found to be contaminated with anthrax.

"The first thing I thought about was my dad," she said. "I wanted to make sure he was going to be protected."

But Yoon said she was disappointed at how much time elapsed before postal workers were treated during the first discoveries of the anthrax.

"There are so many people working there and so many families affected - that they waited so long is upsetting," she said.

With the closure of a contaminated post office in New Jersey last weekend, many officials say people will have to continue with caution as the anthrax crisis continues to affect more facilities around the country.


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