Election Day this year coincides with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This prompts the question about the safety of poll workers as they spend hours in direct contact with other people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its definition of “close contact” last month. According to Fox News, “the agency previously said close contact consisted of being within six feet of an infectious person for 15 minutes straight.”
Its definition of “close contact” is now “to an individual infected with the coronavirus to include multiple, brief exposures adding up to over 15 minutes within 24 hours,” Fox News reported.
“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” the CDC wrote.
Risk Factors Among Poll Workers
Many factors put poll workers at risk. On average, they are older, which means they are at an increased risk for COVID-19 complications if they ever contract the virus. Elections Assistance Commission data shows that 24% of poll workers were 71 or older, while another 32% were between the ages of 61 and 70 in 2016.
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Older volunteers may have been hesitant to work the polls this year due to the pandemic while younger Americans take their place. However, experts say poll workers should be treated as frontline workers no matter how old they are.
“They will be around a significant number of people – some of whom may be infectious,” said Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer of the health care website WebMD.
“It will be critically important that everyone follows safeguards [such as] absolutely wearing a mask, physical distancing and frequent handwashing. They should try to minimize any physical contact with people who come to vote. For instance, the public can simply show poll workers their ID rather than handing it to them,” he continued.