During the Spring Election on 7 April that was held in Wisconsin, United States, it is reported that at least three dozen people who we present at polling stations tested positive for COVID-19. According to POLITICO, those who tested positive for the coronavirus include both voters and poll workers.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced “new tracing mechanisms” to support local health departments in tracking residents who were at risk of contracting the virus during the election. It was revealed that this was an in-person election held by the State.
“So far, 36 people who tested COVID-19 positive after 9 April have reported that they voted in person or worked the polls on election day,” said Jennifer Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
It was unclear whether the polling stations were where these people were exposed to the coronavirus, as Ms Miller said that “several people” within that group reported additional possible exposures.
If the people who tested positive caught the infection before going to the polls, they could have spread it to other people who were there on the same day.
In Milwaukee County, 40 people tested positive for the virus and they had all participated in the election. This just means that the figure is likely to grow in the coming weeks as many people have yet to be tested..
About 400,000 people in Wisconsin voted in person after the state Supreme Court overturned Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ last-minute order to postpone in-person voting.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission provided personal protective equipment and guidance to municipal and county clerks, but the poll workers and voters who were waiting in line and voting were still at risk of contracting the virus.
Seeing how a group of people who participated in the Election had already tested positive for COVID-19, state and local health officials mentioned that they expect cases to spike in the following week due to the election.
It was also noted by the Department of Health that the contact tracing process would be lengthy and that it will not have a full picture of the impact for several weeks as symptoms take time to develop and varies from person to person. As such, the Department advised people to talk to their healthcare provider about being testing and subsequently interviewed by a local public health contact tracer.
Since the coronavirus has a typical incubation period of 14 days, people with symptoms must get tested, wait for the results and then secure an interview.
This incident paints a picture of what might happen when a country decides to hold an election in the midst of a pandemic.
Voting in the midst of a pandemic
The US isn’t the only country to have risk holding an election during this pandemic. Two weeks ago on 15 April, South Korea held nationwide a parliamentary election amid the outbreak, though with significantly more protection and protocol in place.
Poll workers had on masks and gloves while temperatures were taken for all 15 million voters who turned up. Those showing signs of a fever were guided to a more isolated area of the polling station to cast their ballots. Additionally, separate polling stations were set up just outside of hospitals to allow COVID-19 infected patients to cast their votes.
South Korea’s country’s total confirmed cases rose to 10,761 after 14 new cases were recorded as of 28 April.
Other countries like France, Germany and Australia were reported to have held elections back in March according to Idea. Despite the risk of spreading the coronavirus by carrying out an election during the outbreak, these countries proceeded with the event which eventually led to spikes of new COVID-19 cases.
Locally, there were reports at the beginning of April that election preparations were being made by ST Synthesis, the company that conducts training for volunteers at polling stations. Advertisements were put up looking for part-time event assistants who are required to work between May to June in various locations.
A tip-off TOC received managed to confirm that the jobs are meant to provide logistic support for an election.
So far, however, there is no confirmation as to when the General Election in Singapore will be held. Though the Elections Department Singapore stated that it has to be held by 14 April 2021.