Among the many interesting things on display at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC., one particular item is, without a doubt, truly eye-catching for its one menacing feature.
On display is a paddle made of wood that has now submitted itself to discoloration through the years. It looks like an ordinary hairbrush but instead of bristles, there are rows of sharp metal spikes protruding from the surface of the light brown wood, resembling the teeth of some ghastly monster, which is why it is perfectly understandable if someone mistakes it for some ancient weapon or a torture implement.
It is surprising to know that this item was an essential tool in the 19th century when US authorities – fearing that yellow fever could spread through the mail – perforate mails (thus, the grisly toothed paddle) to allow fumigation to take full effect and complete the sanitation of letters in the mail.
This is not the first and only sanitation strategy that, in hindsight, appears excessive and misguided. While the US government is doing its best to deal with a plethora of deadly communicable diseases, the people were not deterred when it comes to writing and receiving letters. It is perfectly understandable – at a time like this when people are worried about their loved ones, any update on their status depended on the letters they sent to one another.
The US government didn’t just perforate letters for the sake of safety, they also tried other methods. The letters were collected and gassed in rail cars or baked inside ovens; at one point, letters were irradiated – all in the hopes that anything in it that can spread sickness dies or disappears in the process.
The spiked paddle and every unnecessary safety measure to ‘cleanse’ the letters remind us what happens to people when they are scared and misinformed. This somehow resonates today as we try to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the people are divided by opposing opinions.
The first question that comes to mind about mail and office documents is this: can these items spread coronavirus?
A study published in The Lancet entitled “Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions” has already assured the public that mail and paper, in general, are very least likely to trigger a massive transmission of the coronavirus, owing to the very short lifespan of the virus on a porous surface. This has been corroborated by different professionals in related fields.
In a webinar hosted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and presented in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education, National Archives and Records Administration, Smithsonian Institution, and Library of Congress, speaker David Berendes, who is an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, helped clear the air regarding paper and the COVID-19 virus. “You don’t have to really worry about finding ways to disinfect those materials. The virus, if it’s present, would be present in very low quantities and would die off pretty quickly.”
So please, do not attempt to resurrect the archived ‘spiked paddle’ or create a 21st-century version of this outdated tool. Thanks to science and medicine, the things we need to disinfect any item – and how to do it properly – are all available to us.
You need not disinfect mail or documents, but make sure the canvas mail bag used to collect these items is regularly disinfected. Using a canvas mail bag is ideal for bringing mail or documents to employees working at home. Make sure the bag is regularly washed.
Machine Wash Instructions:
- Remove the contents of the canvas mail bag. Check every pocket, every slot, every compartment. Mail or office documents left inside the bag will be severely damaged (if not destroyed) by the washing machine. Be rigorous in checking. Your job depends on it.
- Make sure your canvas mail bag is in a net laundry bag.
- Settings: use cool water and set to gentle cycle.
- No dryer, no direct sunlight. Turn your canvas mail bag inside out and air dry.
Hand Wash Instructions
- Use a gentle detergent. You may add a few drops of disinfectant solution to the water.
- Rinse thoroughly
- Air dry
For leather mail bag or other custom mail bags, my advice is to refer to the washing instruction which is usually found on the tag attached to the bag, to make sure you wash the bag properly and avoid causing any material damage.
Old World Meets New Normal
A lot of things have changed since the 19th century. Thankfully, our mail is now free from the threat of being riddled with holes or baked in the oven or exposed to radiation because today we have modern cleaning solutions that actually work!
It is easy to buy any kind of disinfectant, and the instruction on how to use it is very easy to understand and follow.
It remains unclear where we are in terms of how long this pandemic will last and whether it will turn for the better or for worst. It gives us comfort knowing that the scientific and medical community is using the full extent of its expertise so that we can fight COVID-19 in a reasonable and effective manner.
Amid the global struggle to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies – in partnership and cooperation with the government – green light the implementation of various and wide-ranging protocols for safety concerning the handling of mails and office documents to make sure receiving, handling, and delivery of office mail and office document does not contribute in the spread of the coronavirus.
Both mail and printed office documents remain as the two most important facets of the modern workplace, regardless of how far companies have modernized and went digital. This explains why mail and printed office documents have remained ubiquitous in the office even today. With employees working at home, those responsible for the handling of mail and office documents will have their hands full, and first in the list of the task is to always disinfect the mail bags they use for safety and for everyone’s peace of mind.