As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold and the severity of both the immediate impact as well as downstream consequences become more tangible, we have all become passengers, observers, and active participants in what will undoubtedly become a time period that shapes history. While the negative economic effects of coronavirus have been relatively industry agnostic, there have certainly been industries that have felt the impact more than others, and there is no more dividing metric than the sometimes ambiguous designation of critical or essential workforce.
As lockdowns, “shelter-in-place”, and curfews were issued around the country, leaders across industries scrambled to validate their operations. To those of us in the world of print and mail, it was always evident that our work provides an essential service. Print and mail is a key communication channel for industries that are the backbone to our economy and our ability to combat this pandemic. HIPAA regulations in the healthcare sector have a dependency on mail for necessary engagements with patients, specifically those most impacted by coronavirus. From test packages to test results, from stimulus checks to vote by mail expansion, mailers would inevitably be at the front line of most government efforts to provide stability, resources, and relief.
And even as our economy slows to a crawl, billions of dollars in billing continues to be remitted via mail, and individuals as well as small businesses across the country continue to receive necessary payments via check by mail. These payments put food on tables, food provided by local restaurants that send postcards to their neighborhoods spreading the news of new takeout and delivery options.
With all of that in mind, it becomes clear why printers in Pennsylvania fought tooth and nail to modify state industry operational guidance to specifically designate printing as an essential function, a battle that they won as of March 20th. I personally spoke to many printers that had already assembled their legal teams to keep their printers running communication for local gas, water, and electric companies, and even several printers that were creating packages for coronavirus testing kits.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce provided guidelines that were specific enough to provide reassurance, but vague enough to leave room for doubt. The guidelines cited “communications” and “manufacturing functions” but did not specifically provide security for the industry that provides integral printed communications for our nation’s largest healthcare, telecommunications, energy, and financial institutions.
After California rolled out a state-wide shelter in place policy, it wasn’t long before similar policies began affecting the majority of our network of distributed printers here at Lob. In an effort to proactively provide the type of validation our network would need in order to remain operational, we went straight to the source and collected attestations from healthcare customers that rely on Lob for daily communications with their patient population. This documentation was then shared with our network, which has been diligently working with their customers as well as state and local authorities to create the same body of evidence.
On Monday, March 23rd our team as well as our print network received an official communication from the United States Postal Service (USPS) detailing the necessity of not only USPS as critical national infrastructure, but clearly stating that “the functioning of the postal system depends critically on the mailing and printing industry.”
They went on to state that USPS felt that the “continued operations of the mailing and printing industry in enabling the delivery of critical mail and packages is vital to the Postal Service’s continued performance of its essential functions.”
Throughout the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that critical services expand beyond those that might be immediately apparent. Lob, our technology, and our network of printers fit into a much larger picture. More important than our desire to provide continuity of service to our customers during this time, is our desire to continue providing meaningful service to millions of Americans that rely on Lob’s automated direct mail to stay connected, safe, and secure in this uncertain time.