At least 52 Wisconsinites who got COVID-19 reported voting in person or working the polls in the April 7 election, which health experts warned would increase the risk of spreading the disease.
But the state Department of Health Services, which released the figures, cautioned it can’t say for certain whether the election was the reason the 52 contracted the virus without more data, such as a comparison group of negative cases.
Several of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 and participated in the election also reported other possible exposures to the illness, which so far has infected at least 6,289 people and led to 300 deaths in the state.
The 52 election-related cases are up significantly since last week, when only 19 such cases had been reported. According to DHS, the cases were distributed in the following regions:
- Northeast: 11
- Northern: 0
- Southern: 6
- Southeast: 34
- Western: 1
Green Bay and Milwaukee, locations in northeast and southeast Wisconsin, experienced some of the longest lines for voting at polls on April 7.
The 52 positive cases include those who tested positive between April 9 and 21, which is the window in which people would likely have started exhibiting symptoms. People typically begin showing symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of exposure, although studies have shown many people may have the virus but show no symptoms at all.
Health officials are not conducting a widespread survey of all people who voted at the polls, but contact people who had close proximity with someone who tested positive as part of normal protocol. DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state plans to notify local officials if a poll worker or voter at a particular site tested positive.
Last week, the state reported five of the 2,400 National Guard members who had assisted at the polls had shown symptoms, but none had tested positive.
Public health agencies discover potential links among cases of infectious diseases — such as COVID-19, tuberculosis or foodborne illnesses like salmonella or norovirus — by interviewing people who become ill or test positive, and asking where they’ve been and with whom they’ve been in contact. Through contact tracing, health agencies talk to those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive and see if they develop symptoms.
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