As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, events nationwide are being canceled, but not without protest. States across the country have postponed elections in efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic. Despite health concerns and an executive order by the governor to postpone elections, Wisconsin Republicans refused to postpone races for state and local office in addition to the presidential primary. Insisting the election go on, Republicans in the state fought the order with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court resulting in a forced election on April 7. Of course, their actions didn’t end without dire consequences; health officials have linked at least seven cases of COVID-19 to state election activities, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Monday.
According to Kowalik six of the cases involve Milwaukee voters and one is a Milwaukee poll worker, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Officials are investigating further into the cases to inquire additional information including whether the virus was concentrated in any of the city’s five polling places and if any of the cases resulted in death. As Daily Kos previously noted, election officials were operating only five in-person voting centers for a city of 600,000 people.
Thousands of voters endured long lines at each polling station, making contact tracing more difficult and the chance the virus spread high. While many did stay home fearful of their health, several of those who attended polling stations did so without protective gear, according to the Associated Press.
Officials are using contact tracing to determine where the virus spread from and what impact it may have. In order to conduct contact tracing effectively, Kowalik said broad notifications would be sent out to people present during certain time frames. "As you recall, there were people that were in line for a very long time to get their vote in, so if you figure out around a range of time when someone was there or in the polling sites or in the line, connect to someone who was an actual case, that's when we would do notifications," she said. According to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, approximately 3,500 voters participated in each of the city’s voting locations in addition to polling workers, The Journal Sentinel reported.
While many feared the forced election would bring a spike in the state’s cases, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Monday that there is no confirmed evidence yet that the election resulted in a surge in COVID-19 cases. However, she noted that if further cases do exist, symptoms may not have yet appeared. Tuesday marks 14 days since the election on April 7; global health experts have shared that symptoms of the virus most often appear within five to 14 days, if at all. As of this report, more than 4,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Wisconsin and 230 people have died as a result, the AP reported.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in every six people who get COVID-19 becomes severely ill. While only seven cases have been confirmed to the April 7 election, having the election during this pandemic was completely unnecessary and irresponsible. When alternatives like mail-in ballots exist and other states have postponed their elections amid the pandemic, Wisconsin officials had no reason to insist on continuing with their election and putting the lives of residents at risk.
Not only did the election put those who voted at risk, but those who stayed home and followed social distancing measures were unable to participate in their right to vote due to a lack of absentee ballots. State officials should prioritize the health of their residents, not make Americans choose between exercising their right to vote or the ability to stay healthy.