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USA: Dozens of poll workers sick with COVID-19

Despite careful efforts to keep voting centers safe in the United States, some poll workers who came into contact with voters on Election Day tested positive for coronavirus, including more than two dozen cases in Missouri, New York, Iowa, Indiana and Virginia.

Infections cannot be definitively linked to polling places. Because COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the country, there is no way to determine yet whether in-person voting contributed to the increase, public health experts said.

Still, infections among poll workers are causing concern due to the number of people passing through the polls, implementing social distancing rules, erecting protective barriers and collecting disinfectants, masks, gloves and other protective equipment. In most places poll workers were required to wear face masks.

The cases emerged as poll workers continue to count thousands of ballots. As the hand count began in the presidential race in Georgia, the state’s top election official went into isolation after his wife was diagnosed with coronavirus.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is located in one of the counties considered to be a high contagion zone, an elections official who worked at an early voting center later tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m actually surprised that we don’t have any more cases,” said Linn County Elections Commissioner Joel Miller, noting that several county employees in his building were diagnosed in the last week. “In fact, it seems incredible to me that we don’t have more, but perhaps they are not reporting them to us.”

Poll workers in Missouri’s Jackson County appear to be the hardest hit so far, with some 28 members sick with COVID-19 in the past two weeks.

Tammy Brown, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections, said her staff urged voters who felt ill to avoid entering the facility, although she suspects that not everyone listened to her. The board dealt with some 200,000 voters, including more than 60,000 who cast their ballots early.

“As election officials, we all knew we were at risk,” Brown said. “I don’t think this is surprising to any of us.”

Tracing cases to polling places is difficult because the virus manifests itself in different ways and some people never have symptoms.

Infections also increase as people reunite with family or friends and return to more crowded public settings.

The United States surpassed 11 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with more than a million in less than a week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The virus has claimed the lives of more than 246,000 people in the United States, and the disease is spreading faster in the country than at any time since the pandemic began.

While that spread increases the likelihood that poll workers have contracted the coronavirus elsewhere, there have been calls for colleagues to self-quarantine and for voters to be tested as a precaution.