By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
The American flag outside the Baker City post office indeed, at every post office across the land flies at half-staff in tribute to the services two dead workers in the District of Columbia.
Two postal employees who worked at a sorting facility that serves the nations capital died this week of inhaled anthrax, bringing to three the number of Americans who have died of exposure to the bacterium.
No anthrax cases have been reported in Oregon.
Inside the Baker City post office, Postmaster Dan Pipkin said, only two of 24 workers have elected to use the rubber gloves that the Postal Service has begun shipping to all post offices. No one, he said, is using one of the two million masks the USPS had distributed to the nations post offices by Thursday.
Morale at the facility this week, he said, has been good in the face of the terrible news, but theres this sense that we've been violated. Still, people here are doing a good job to make sure theres no interruption in service.
At the Haines Post Office, Siobhan Knowles answered the phone this morning behind the protection of both mask and gloves.
Ive been wearing gloves ever since Tom Brokaws assistant came down with anthrax, she said. I refuse to live in fear, but I want to be safe, too. Of course, we all realize anthrax is treatable if its diagnosed in time.
Pipkin said he and a Baker City postal supervisor have each taken a 16-hour course in hazardous materials handling as well as an eight-hour refresher course offered this year.
Postal workers at the Baker City facility talk every day in meetings, he said, about the threat of anthrax through the mail, and have been briefed on such matters as the proper disposal of proper gloves (Employees who use them must turn them inside-out when theyre done, he said, to contain any possible anthrax spores, then dispose of them in a specially-provided container).
Even before the disaster, it was our responsibility to maintain a level of awareness for hazardous materials, Pipkin said. Im comfortable with our level of preparedness. Our first concern is the safety of our employees, and the second is the safety of the community. We havent seen any suspicious mail at all.
The one envelope that got everybodys attention, he said, turned out to be just a mistake. An area resident used double-sided tape to seal an envelope, and some powder somehow got stuck to the tape. The powder was harmless, Pipkin said.
Were all just very aware of everything thats going on around us now, Pipkin said.