The U.S. Postal Service has been under siege for months as record volumes of holiday packages and election mail ran up against a spike in coronavirus cases within its workforce, leaving the agency severely short-staffed. Nearly 19,000 workers were in quarantine at the end of 2020 after becoming infected or exposed to the virus, according to the American Postal Workers Union.

That has left hundreds of small publishers struggling to deliver their products, according to the National Newspaper Association, undercutting their advertising revenues and subscriber bases, and depriving the largely rural communities they serve of crucial news coverage. Some news operations have even called on reporters and editors to deliver papers.

They’re also staring down rate increases of as much as 9 percent in 2022 and for years thereafter. Mail service is already one of their biggest costs, industry insiders say, and such a scenario could force hundreds of small publications out of business given their already bite-size margins.

“These are little, tiny rural communities, and typically papers like mine are the only sources of information about that community,” said Brett Wesner, chair of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of Wesner Publications, which includes 12 titles in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. “Most don’t have digital coverage of any kind. Most don’t have radio stations. We are the source of community information, both in terms of covering community events but also the city council, the school board, the county commission.