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Behind the scenes: Mail Services adapts to COVID-19

Rather than operating out of the post office like usual, Mail Services distributed items out of the Great Hall for the first couple weeks of Fall Term. There were two reasons for this: more packages were expected this year and staff needed more space to socially distance. Mail Services has recently moved back to the post office, as the number of packages has been greatly reduced and the Great Hall is going to be used for COVID-19 testing.

Locke Perkins, the assistant director of Campus Services, discussed the benefits of working out of the Great Hall for the first two weeks of the term. “It gave us the space to space out, and we actually got more incoming parcels for students this year than any other year previously. And not by a small margin; by a lot. We just couldn’t have fit.”

During the first week of classes, Perkins said they received 3,100 parcels for students, the most he’d ever seen in his nine years of working for Mail Services at Carleton. In the second week they received 1,800 parcels, which was, according to Perkins, “still a lot. The second week was very busy.” He guessed this increase in mail was “related to people ordering more stuff and not wanting to make a Target run because of COVID.” 

Since then, there have been fewer packages, and David Entenmann, the Mail Services and OneCard coordinator, said that “things have died down a lot; it’s a lot closer to what a normal year is now, but it was definitely a sort of ramping down process.” Perkins said something similar, that the package rate has “kind of evened out or [is] at least getting back to what I consider normal levels.”

After moving back to the post office, Entemann said, “we rearranged everything to try and encourage distance [between workers],” but keeping proper social distance hasn’t been easy. This is because there were many more new student workers than there have been in previous years, and because the post office recently switched to a new package management system.

With all the new student workers, more training was required, which was difficult to do at a distance. As Entemann said, it’s “hard to train someone to use an app from six feet away.” Still, Entemann said they are “trying to encourage [distancing], but we also want to get things done. It’s really difficult to maintain that balance.”

Leo Vithoontien ’21, a student worker at the post office, said that the new setup has affected their efficiency because “now we only have one window open. Before, we had two windows open so we could help two people at a time. Now that there’s only one, it’s making the line even longer and people have to wait a little while.” 

Vithoontien said another change that has been made is that students no longer go down to the loading dock. Previously, he said, he “would go down, sign off and sort the packages into the hampers,” but this year, “David and Locke handle it so that we [the student workers] limit our contact.”

Another change that’s been made because of COVID-19 is the frequency with which faculty and staff mail is delivered. Previously, mail was delivered to faculty and staff twice a day. Now it’s delivered only once. Perkins said this is because “different offices are closed, so their mail is getting delivered elsewhere. The English department is getting delivered to two separate buildings. There are all sorts of changes like that to take into account.”

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