SAIPAN — Saipan Postmaster Harry Wilcox said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on postal operations.

There have been complaints about delayed arrivals or damaged packages sent through the United States Postal Service.

"First of all, we apologize for any inconveniences experienced by our Saipan customers as a result of damaged or delayed packages," Wilcox said.

The root cause is the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

"Online commerce has skyrocketed, which has resulted in an increase in the volume of packages that they are transporting, processing and distributing," he said.

Package volume coming into Saipan is three times the usual amount for this time of year, Wilcox added. "At the same time, the number of flights available to transport mail from all points to Saipan has dropped. The result has been increased package transit time."

In addition, COVID-19 safety measures every step of the way have added to that transit time," he said.

The Saipan Post Office currently has 6,036 P.O. boxes.

Wilcox said they are working on reducing transit time for packages.

"The good news is that we recently added additional manpower in Guam, which serves as our regional mail-processing hub, and are working on adding additional personnel in Saipan," he said.

Wilcox said USPS is also working on adding additional flights between Guam and Saipan.

"These adjustments should reduce package transit time," he added.

As for the damaged packages, the postmaster said, "We believe that the damaged package you brought to our attention is a result of a combination of factors. Our transportation partners are doing their best to squeeze in as many packages as possible on the flights that are available. That has resulted in increased jostling and stacking of those packages."

He said shippers can reduce the chances of damage to packages and their contents by thoroughly padding the contents, then securing the package with strong shipping tape at every opening.

"If a customer receives a severely damaged package they should inform us as well as the package shipper," he added.

"We understand how important the postal service is to Saipan residents and are making every effort to serve them in a safe and timely manner."

Speaking of safety, Wilcox added, "We would like to remind our customers to please follow local social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines while visiting our postal facilities. Nothing is more vital to us than the health and welfare of our employee and customers. We're all in this together."