Wisconsin health officials: 19 coronavirus cases may be related to election activities

Nineteen people who either voted in-person or worked at a polling location during Wisconsin's state elections have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the state's health department told The Hill.  

An official from the Wisconsin Department of Health cautioned against linking the virus to election day activities, noting that several people "reported other possible exposures as well." 

"Since we only have data on positive cases (without a comparison group of people who were not tested or tested negative), there is no way to know with certainty if any exposures at the polls that are reported are in fact attributable to COVID-19 illness," the person said. 

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Health officials are in the process of interviewing COVID-19 patients and finding out whether they voted in-person or worked at a polling site. 

Wisconsin's elections became the subject of intense debate earlier this month as some voiced fears about crowding polling stations during a time when health experts pleaded for the public to avoid mass gatherings. Gov. Tony Evers (D) attempted to block in-person voting and to hold the entire election by mail, though Republican legislators refused the request. 

The Supreme Court also overturned Evers's executive order to postpone in-person voting until June. The ruling also held that Wisconsin could not accept absentee ballots postmarked after its voting day. 

The figures from state health officials arrived just a day after Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said that seven people in the city were believed to have contracted COVID-19 through election day activities. Kowalik said that seven cases included six voters and one poll worker. 

"There needs to be a little bit more analysis so we can connect the dots, that's why case investigation and contact tracing [are] so important," Kowalik said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"As you recall, there were people that were in line for a very long time to get their vote in," she continued, "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." 

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In Milwaukee, only five polling sites were open on the day of Wisconsin's elections. About 18,800 people cast ballots in person, an average of about 3,700 voters per site, ABC News noted. 

Kowalik said the city is hoping to have a more complete picture on the role in-person voting played in the spread of the virus by Friday.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said earlier this week that health officials had yet to see "information in the data" to suggest that in-person voting had an impact on the outbreak. She noted that it would take time for any possible links to emerge.

"Remember the sort of lag time as it relates to the virus showing up," she said. "We have not yet seen indications of an impact from the election. We will continue to monitor that as well as other types of signals that suggest an outbreak."

As Wisconsin held in-person voting on April 7, videos and photos surfaced showing voters waiting in lines stretching outside of various polling stations. Wisconsin's Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) called the resulting election a "shit show" and blamed state Republicans and the Supreme Court. 

Updated: 1:37 p.m.