How to protect yourself from COVID-19 if voting in person

Posted at 7:18 PM, Nov 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-03 22:18:36-05

If you're planning on voting with an absentee or mail-in ballot, chances are you feel pretty protected from COVID-19 while voting this year. But what if you're voting in-person? Experts weigh in on staying safe when heading to your polling place. The first piece of advice is to have a plan.

"The example I would give would be going to the grocery store. That's something that caused people a lot of anxiety when we first were dealing with the pandemic back in March, and I think for many of us, it’s becoming relatively routine. It's not how we shopped for groceries back in January but it's something that we’ve learned to do. I think voting can be the same," said Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease doctor and Associate Professor at Emory University.

Dr. Varkey says to know the COVID-19 transmission rates in your community, as well as your own personal risk, if you were to become infected with COVID-19.

"To give some specific examples, masking is absolute, and I would want to make sure that there is a universal mask mandate in place and not just those that are going to cast their votes but workers as well," said Dr. Varkey.

Dr. Varkey says wearing a mask that has at least two layers and wearing it properly is key. Also, ensure your polling place allows you to socially distance from other voters. Dr. Varkey says standing more than 6 feet away from others is preferred. Also, it’s great if your polling place is keeping doors and windows open to increase airflow.

"The other thing, and I know this is hard to do, the more we can actually limit the amount of talking, or certainly yelling or singing or anything else going on, is the more we can reduce our chances of passing these infectious droplets that can aerosolize, and that tends to really occur when people are talking. Masks reduce that risk, but we can really reduce it more by, well, talking less," says Dr. Varkey.

In Madison, Wisconsin, poll workers will be ensuring voters are socially-distanced and frequently disinfecting all voting booths, pens and other frequently touched items. City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl has been working closely with their local health department.

"We will have plexiglass glass set up for stations where poll workers have to interact with voters within 6 feet of each other, and for other poll workers who are not at those stations, they’ll have access to face shields if they like," said Witzel-Behl.

Poll workers are also being told to follow a strict set of health guidelines in order to volunteer.

"If they've had a fever within the last few days or taken a fever-reducing medication in the past few days, they can’t work at the poll. If they've had any COVID-19 symptoms or been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or had a cough within the past week they can’t work at the polls," said Witzel-Behl.

So, do you need to bring a container of disinfecting wipes with you to the polls?

"I put the priority first on the masks and keeping your distance but that last part on how to take a relatively safe activity, like voting and make it extra safe, there’s two things I would bring with me into the voting booth. One is my own pen the other is hand sanitizer," said Dr. Varkey.