MILWAUKEE (AP) — Officials have identified seven people who appear to have contracted the coronavirus through activities related to the April 7 election in Wisconsin.
Shawn Benjamin, a spokesman for the Milwaukee health department, said in an email to The Associated Press that his agency has confirmed the infections. Commissioner of Health Jeanette Kowalik said six of the cases involve Milwaukee voters and one is a Milwaukee poll worker, the Journal Sentinel reported.
Officials hope to have additional information on the cases by the end of the week, including whether any of them were concentrated in any of the city’s five polling places or if any resulted in death, Kowalik said Monday.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Monday that there were no signs of a surge in cases related to the election as some feared. Palm noted, however, that if cases do exist symptoms may not have appeared yet. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, didn’t immediately respond to an email Tuesday morning seeking comment on the Milwaukee infections.
Health officials say symptoms of COVID-19 typically appear within two weeks of exposure to the virus, and Tuesday is the 14th day since the election. That means more voters and poll workers could come forward with infections in the coming days.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. To date, 230 people have died in Wisconsin and nearly 4,500 have tested positive.
Wisconsin officials refused to postpone the spring election to protect voters and poll workers from the virus. Evers and Republicans initially agreed that in-person voting should go on as scheduled. Both Evers and the GOP said the ballot included hundreds of local officials whose terms end in April and a delay could leave crucial local offices vacant during the pandemic.
Democrats and their allies ramped up pressure on Evers to postpone the proceedings as election day drew near. Evers issued an executive order the day before the election pushing in-person voting back to June but the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court struck it down within hours.
Voters who went to the polls in Milwaukee stood in long lines, many for several hours, to cast their ballots. Many had no protective gear. And thousands of Wisconsin voters stayed home, unwilling to risk their health and unable to be counted because requested absentee ballots never arrived.
Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — both Republicans — didn’t respond to emails Tuesday seeking comment on the seven election-related infections.
Wisconsin’s election has been a flashpoint of contention as Democrats and Republicans grapple with how to conduct elections in the coronavirus era as the November presidential race approaches.
Democrats and voting rights groups have filed lawsuits to expand mail and absentee voting options, and pushed for an extra $2 billion to help states adjust their election systems. National Republicans are fighting those efforts, while President Donald Trump claims without evidence that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud.
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