As millions vote, California polling places take precautions to lessen coronavirus risk
Whether concerns about COVID-19 will affect in-person voter turnout, or prompt significant numbers of residents to stray from habit and vote by mail, remains to be seen. But some counties are taking precautions to sanitize voting areas and alleviate fear.
In Santa Clara County, officials have distributed hand sanitizer and wipes at polling stations. The county has at least nine confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest in the state.
Polling place workers are wiping down touchscreen voting devices with disinfectant wipes between use, said Steven Spivak, spokesman for the Santa Clara County registrar of voters office. He said they are also encouraging workers to wash their hands and stay home if they’re sick.
The county also distributed mail-in ballots to every registered voter this year, which may have come in handy amid the outbreak.
“We’re urging people who feel sick to mail in their ballot,” he said. As to whether fears of illness will reduce voter turnout, Spivak said the county has tried to take precautions to mitigate concerns.
“We encourage people to go out there and get those ballots in,” he said.
At vote centers in L.A. County, which has reported one confirmed case of the virus, millions are voting on new machines. A spokesperson said that workers are routinely wiping down the touchscreens that voters will use to cast their ballots.
“I washed my hands the CDC way after using it,” one voter wrote on Twitter.
“Definitely going to use hand sanitizer and wipe down surfaces,” wrote another.
At a voting center at Rosemead High School, Kevin Voong voted in his first election on Tuesday. The 18-year-old didn’t see the need to wear a mask or use hand sanitizer before or after voting, he said.
“The more we talk about the coronavirus, the more we spread the panic,” he said. “I’m young and healthy. What do I have to worry about? If I was old, then it would be different.”
Also filling their ballots at the high school, Jose Ahumada, 84, and his wife Maria Ahumada, 75, laughed off the idea of precautionary measures.
“Why would I wear a mask?” Maria said. “I’ve already lived a good life.”
The most consistently repeated recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the coronavirus is for people to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer should be used when water and soap aren’t readily available, officials said.
In San Francisco, a handful of people have called the registrar’s office to ask about the potential of contracting coronavirus at polling places, said Matthew Selby, division manager for the registrar’s office. People have asked what precautions are being taken and inquired about vote-by-mail options, he said.
There have been more than 100 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the U.S., and nine deaths — all in Washington state.
In California, at least 40 cases of the virus have been reported. Twenty-four of those were individuals who caught the virus either on the Diamond Princess cruise ship or in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak was first reported, and were then repatriated to the U.S. and quarantined at California military bases.
An additional 19 cases were confirmed in returning travelers or, in at least five instances, people who contracted the virus in their communities.
There have been more than 92,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 3,100 reported deaths worldwide. World Health Organization officials have declined to declare the outbreak a pandemic, saying 90% of the cases have been in China.
“I just think it’s something that we shouldn’t be worried about right now,” said Arais Chavez, 24, upon casting her ballot at Rosemead High. “It’s a disease that targets the elderly and we should protect them, but everyone else is fine.”
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