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The outbreak among FedEx workers has prompted questions from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who wrote to FedEx Chairman and CEO Fred Smith about safety protocols at the delivery giant.
A FedEx spokeswoman declined to comment on the number of cases and fatalities in the facility at the Newark Liberty International Airport. She said the number of cases among the workers there isn't unusual given the large outbreak in New Jersey and New York. It is one of six FedEx air hubs in the U.S. and has around 2,100 employees.
"We are deeply saddened that a small number of team members have succumbed to the virus or complications related to it," the spokeswoman said. "We have been in contact with these families to offer our deepest condolences."
At least five FedEx employees have died in recent weeks after testing positive for the virus, according to a report in the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Record in New Jersey.
In a letter dated May 1, Sen. Booker sought information from the company about illnesses and procedures at the facility. "I am concerned about reports of loosely enforced social-distancing policies, insufficient access to personal-protective equipment, inadequate sanitation within the facility and limited transparency from FedEx," Sen. Booker wrote.
FedEx said it has diverted some air traffic away from Newark to limit the number of people needed to work there. It is also checking temperatures of workers, vendors and other visitors entering the hub, providing personal-protective equipment to all workers and frequently deep-cleaning common areas.
The company said it is also notifying workers who have had close contact with infected employees, and requiring them to self-quarantine for 14 days. It considers close contact as less than 6 feet for between 10 and 30 minutes, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, so some employees who think they have had prolonged, close exposure may not be notified that they need to self-quarantine.
"Such contact may not meet the CDC guidelines, and therefore, a period of self-quarantine would not be scientifically warranted," Richard Smith, who oversees the Americas region for FedEx's Express division, wrote in a letter Sunday to Sen. Booker.
Rival United Parcel Service Inc. is also confronting how to keep employees safe during the pandemic as it continues to operate its vast delivery network. UPS is cleaning its facilities more frequently, providing more sanitizer and personal-protection equipment and taking other steps.
At least two UPS workers in Louisville have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to local officials and union leadership.