By Randolph Schmid
WASHINGTON — Millions of face masks and gloves are arriving at post offices across the country as the U.S. Postal Service rushes to deal with the threat of mailed anthrax.
"We are continuing to take every possible action to protect our employees and the public, and we are doing that while keeping the mail moving," Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan said Thursday.
"Obviously, mail is an indispensable part of our everyday life in America, and we’re just not going to give in to this terrorism," Nolan said.
The actions came as another case of inhaled anthrax was spotted, this time in a State Department employee who had handled mail at a facility in Virginia.
Mail to federal agencies passes through the post office’s contaminated Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C.
Deborah Willhite, a senior vice president of the post office, noted that the agency is urging workers in mail rooms that receive bulk mail from Brentwood to get antibiotic treatment.
She added that environmental testing for anthrax is now being expanded to cover all government mail rooms, perhaps several hundred of them.
Some 8,000 postal workers in New York, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey have been provided antibiotics as a precaution, and the medication is expected to be provided to at least 4,000 more.
"Every person affiliated with the mail system who has gone to a hospital is being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," said Dr. Julie Gerberding of CDC. So far, she said, the "vast majority absolutely do not have anthrax."
Postal officials said Thursday they have bought 4 million face masks, and 2 million of them have been shipped to 140 locations, starting on the East Coast.
In addition, the agency has obtained 86 million pairs of gloves made of a high-grade industrial plastic, to supply three pairs per employee per day throughout the nation for three months. Forty-four million pairs have been shipped to offices, officials said.
Gerberding said that in addition to the protective gear, the CDC has recommended that the post office improve ventilation or perform high-density filtration of air in postal facilities.
Homeland security chief Tom Ridge announced that the Postal Service will also conduct random environmental testing at major postal facilities nationwide.
"It is strictly a precautionary measure. It is taken to protect the mail," he said. "I want to reiterate: There is no indication of any new exposure at this time at these sites."
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