Election season is upon us! Milwaukee was the first to hold an in-person election during the COVID19 pandemic. Scientists just (July 31) published a case study on COVID19 spread at this Milwaukee election.
March 3: CDC published health and safety guidelines for state elections
March 13: 1st ever COVID19 case popped up in Milwaukee
March 25: Stay-at-home statewide policy implemented in Wisconsin
April 7: Election day
April 9-21: Incubation period (that is, IF people were infected at the polls, this is when their symptoms would start).
May 5: Marks 4 weeks after the elections (i.e. that is, IF people were infected at the polls, this is when we should see deaths by)
What did they find?
• Cases did not increase after the election. Of the COVID19 infections seen throughout Milwaukee, 28% occurred BEFORE the election and 21% occurred AFTER the election (within the incubation period).
• Deaths did not increase after the election. Of the COVID19 deaths seen throughout Milwaukee, there were 36 deaths pre-election compared to 24 deaths post-election (within the lagged death timeline)
• Hospitalizations also did not increase post-election compared to pre-election
Milwaukee made key changes to mitigate COVID19 spread during their election:
• Public messaging campaigns to limit in-person voting (people who voted by absentee mail-in ballots in Milwaukee increased from 4% in 2016 to 68% in 2020; Voting while remaining in vehicle increased in Milwaukee from 4.7% in 2016 to 12.2% in 2020)
• Polling site safety (employing PPE and environmental cleaning to lower transmission risk at in-person polls)
• CDC also recommends: longer voting periods, and other options such as increasing the number of polling locations to reduce the number of voters who congregate indoors in polling locations
All cities can learn from this case study. We can still have an election season while mitigating COVID19 spread and, thus, medically benefit the community.
Love, your local epidemiologist
Data Source: Figure by me.
Data from: Paradis H, Katrichis J, Stevenson M, et al. Notes from the Field: Public Health Efforts to Mitigate COVID-19 Transmission During the April 7, 2020, Election ― City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 13–May 5, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1002–1003.