Did In-Person Voting Help Further Spread The Coronavirus In Wisconsin?

Apr 8, 2020

Some of the people who voted in Wisconsin Tuesday say they took a health risk to exercise their right to cast a ballot. And, some medical experts say they worry that all the in-person voting may lead to a setback in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic in Wisconsin.

One of those voters is Cheryl Pease. Outside the only polling place in Waukesha, she told WUWM: "I had a heart attack two months ago.  I have psoriasis throughout my body. So, I’m compromised, so I shouldn’t be out here. But, [I’m] doing my American duty."

Pease said even though she came to the polls, she would have preferred the election to have been delayed until the pandemic has eased. She worried that if she got the disease, it could be fatal.

On Tuesday, this sign was posted near the entrance to Schuetze Recreation Center, the city of Waukesha's one polling place.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

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Outside Hamilton High School in Milwaukee, voter Richard Stark expressed a similar concern. He said he was only voting in-person because of a snafu obtaining an absentee ballot.

“It’s the first time, and the only time hopefully, I ever have to take my freaking life in my own hands to come [vote]. Because I’m 66. I smoked for 48 years. I get [COVID-19], I’m gone!,” Stark exclaimed.

Across the state, hundreds of thousands of people went to the polls. So did the collective voting effort across Wisconsin make the spread of the virus worse?

"There's no doubt it is spreading the disease." - Dr. Ben Weston

Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, told reporters that the best way to slow the spread of the disease is to have people stay home. He credited health departments for trying to make polling places safe.

“But however hard you work on that process, we have thousands of people gathering in single places.  There’s no doubt that challenges the COVID effort. There’s no doubt it is spreading the disease,” Weston said.

Darren Rausch, health officer/director at Greenfield Health Department, said a lot of local health officers will be watching for an election-related COVID-19 increase.

“It’s something we’re going to monitor. We know the peak of COVID diseases is still on the horizon," he said. "We certainly hope the elections don’t create that blip. But certainly, there’s a likelihood that it has, or will.”

Rausch said any blip could come in the next few weeks.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.

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