- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Anthrax infections are believed to be behind the deaths of two mail handlers from the District's central postal processing facility and the hospitalization of several other postal workers in Washington and around the country, federal officials said yesterday.
U.S. Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge said last night two D.C. postal employees who worked at the Brentwood central mail facility in Northeast died under "suspicious" circumstances, leading him to believe they had been infected by the bacterium.
"We are still undergoing final tests to determine absolutely if these two deaths were related to anthrax exposure," Mr. Ridge said at a news conference at the White House. "It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious and that their deaths are likely due to anthrax."
Health officials said they are awaiting tests to confirm whether the men died of anthrax infection.
One of the men who died, identified last night as Thomas Lee Morris of Suitland, went to Greater Southeast Community Hospital yesterday morning with flulike symptoms. He died several hours later.
Mr. Morris' wife, reached at the family home last night, said, "I'm a Christian, and I have faith in the heavenly Father and He knew this was going to happen. He has allowed me to go through this."
The other fatality, a 47-year-old man whose name has not been released, arrived yesterday morning at Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, where he died six hours later.
The processing center, located at 900 Brentwood Road, routes several million packages and pieces of mail daily to almost every corner of the District, including Capitol Hill and the offices of the U.S. House and Senate. Officials have said an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was processed at the facility, where an estimated 2,000 people work.
Five other postal workers two in the District and three in New Jersey are among the confirmed 11 cases of anthrax infection reported across the country. Others infected in the wave of bioterrorism attacks include employees and family members at the New York offices of the New York Post, ABC, CBS and NBC, and the Florida offices of American Media, a tabloid publisher.
"The mail and our employees have become the target of terrorists," said Postmaster General John Potter. The U.S. Postal Service employs 800,000 people in 31,000 postal centers nationwide.
Meanwhile, D.C. health officials said authorities are checking on nine other Washington area people who have shown symptoms consistent with anthrax infection. But officials said they did not know how many of the nine cases involved postal workers or how many were hospitalized.
"This is a different day," the District's chief health officer, Dr. Ivan Walks, said at an afternoon news conference yesterday. "We have given the folks the best advice possible."
Dr. Walks also urged people who have shown any symptoms consistent with anthrax to be screened for exposure immediately.
Those who test positive for exposure will be asked to return for more testing and will receive additional supplies of antibiotics.
News of the latest deaths came as hundreds of postal workers headed to D.C. General Hospital on Massachusetts Avenue to undergo nasal swabs and receive their 10-day supplies of the antibiotic Cipro.
Workers at nearby post offices expressed their concerns for their own safety yesterday.
"I'm worried. I think it's awful, terrible," said Charlotte Royster, a window clerk at the Bladensburg post office in Northeast. The Bladensburg post office receives mail processed at Brentwood.
"You don't know where [the anthrax] is coming from," Miss Royster said. "It could be somebody next door or in the next state."
Another postal worker diagnosed with inhaled anthrax was in serious condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital. The employeehad gone to the hospital Sunday morning.
A co-worker, Leroy Richmond, was diagnosed with the same form of the disease at the same hospital on Sunday morning. He checked into the hospital Friday after suffering from a fever and chest pains for several days last week. Mr. Richmond, of Stafford, remained in serious but stable condition last night.
Both men, who are now being "aggressively" treated with antibiotics, work with express mail and packages in the back of the employee area of the Brentwood facility.
Mr. Richmond also worked three days a week at the Air Mail center near BWI Airport.
Since the diagnoses, postal officials have shut down the Brentwood facility and the airmail center near BWI so extensive environmental testing could be conducted.
* Arlo Wagner and Guy Taylor contributed to this story which is based in part on wire service reports.


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