O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Twenty-eight employees of the election board in one of Missouri’s largest counties have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks, and a director believes they most likely got infected from voters, though local health officials aren’t convinced.
The Jackson County Election Board’s Republican director, Tammy Brown, said Tuesday that eight full-time and 20 part-time employees tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in the past 2 1/2 weeks. Most are doing well and recovering at home, but two part-time workers are hospitalized, including one in intensive care, Brown said.
Jackson County is Missouri’s second-largest county, behind St. Louis County. While Kansas City is part of Jackson County, the city has its own election board. The Jackson County board handled votes cast by nearly 200,000 people.
Among them were more than 60,000 people who voted absentee or by mail, Brown said. Many of those people passed through the main board office or the absentee voting office in the weeks leading up to the election, either to pick up a ballot, vote, or drop off a ballot.
“We had thousands and thousands of voters through there every day,” Brown said. “People who requested mail-in and absentee ballots were walking in their applications and then walking in their ballots also.”
The board urged people to wear masks and to not come in if they felt ill. “I’m thinking several people didn’t adhere to it,” Brown said.
The board also offered drive-thru voting for people with COVID-19 or who were quarantining because of contact with someone infected. When so many part-time workers became ill, full-time election board staff ended up working the drive-thru line. Brown said she and other employees working the drive-thru line wore personal protective equipment, including gowns, masks, face shields and gloves.
Jackson County health officials didn’t rule out the possibility that the workers caught the virus from voters, but spokeswoman Kayla Parker said community transmission is so widespread that determining the source would be next to impossible.
“They could have picked it up from anywhere at this point,” Parker said.
Conversely, health officials do not believe voters were at risk of being infected by the workers since their contact time was short and protections such as masks and social distancing were in place.
Missouri is among dozens of states seeing a a big surge in the virus over the past several weeks. The number of new cases reached new records several times last week, and some Missouri hospitals are nearing capacity and postponing some elective procedures.
The election board illnesses were reported to the Jackson County Health Department.
Brown said the absences are not slowing down the counting process necessary to certify election results. The deadline is Nov. 16.
Last week, on the other side of Missouri, the St. Charles County Election Authority learned that a poll worker came to work on Election Day despite a positive diagnosis. That woman, who has not been identified, died in her sleep after the election. It isn’t yet clear if she infected any voters or fellow election judges. Her cause of death has not yet been determined.