Less than a week before Election Day, an election judge supervisor in Missouri who was scheduled to work the polls got her coronavirus test back. She was positive, a private lab told her on Oct. 30, which meant she had to quarantine for two weeks.
Instead, the unidentified St. Charles, Mo., resident showed up and worked the polls on Tuesday. She died soon afterward, the St. Charles County Department of Public Health revealed on Thursday.
As of late Thursday evening, the woman’s exact time and cause of death was not known, Mary Enger, a spokeswoman for St. Charles County, told The Washington Post. Authorities have not made the woman’s identity public.
Nearly 2,000 voters cast ballots on Election Day at the Blanchette Park Memorial Hall polling site where the woman worked, but it’s unclear whether anyone might have had direct contact with her.
“We don’t have any idea how many people would have had contact with this person,” Enger told The Post.
Some St. Charles residents who voted at the polling place told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they are angry and concerned about the potential exposure.
“For me to show up and do my civic duty … and to be exposed in that instance when I have been as careful as I have,” Maggie Pohlmeier, a St. Charles doctor and mom, told the Post-Dispatch. “I am completely irate over this.”
In the past week, the number of new daily reported coronavirus cases in Missouri rose by 20.6%, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. On Thursday, Missouri reported 3,553 new cases — the highest spike in cases the state has witnessed since early October.
At least 196,576 cases have been reported in the state since February, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. At least 3,106 deaths have been reported in that same period.
As a supervisor, Enger said, the woman would not have been typically in charge of activities that required a close interaction with voters, such as handling tablets, distributing styluses or checking voter IDs.
But voters who experience issues with their registration would normally talk with an election judge supervisor like the woman in this case, St. Charles County Director of Elections Kurt Bahr, told the Post-Dispatch. Bahr said he did not know if any voter had interacted with this worker, who was one of two election supervisor judges at the polling location.
Epidemiologists have begun contacting the other nine election workers who were present at the polling site that day, Enger said, and advised them all to get coronavirus tests. Contact tracers are also in touch with the woman’s relatives to determine any places she might have attended before testing positive.
Enger told The Post she was unaware if any voters who attended the polling site that day were presenting any symptoms or have also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines noting that those who tested positive for the coronavirus could still cast their ballots in person, as previously reported by The Post.
“Voters have the right to vote, regardless of whether they are sick or in quarantine,” the CDC says on their website. Under federal law, turning someone away from a polling site is considered illegal and an act of voter intimidation.
But this was not the case for poll workers. Another guidance updated by the agency last week advised sick poll workers to stay home.
“Poll workers who are sick, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have recently had a close contact with a person with COVID-19 should stay home,” the agency’s guidance said.
At first, St. Charles County election officials told poll workers they would not be required to wear masks on Election Day, the Post-Dispatch reported. In September, the paper reported that election officials also told poll workers in a leaked email to “act surprised” if voters asked why they were not wearing masks. But the county walked back that advice after blowback.
All of the county’s poll workers, who were separated from voters by plexiglass barriers on Tuesday, were required to wear masks or face shields at all times, Bahr said in a news release. The polling site was also sanitized throughout the day, he added.
Other residents who cast their ballots at the site told the Post-Dispatch that all voters and election workers at the site wore masks. The site also provided individually wrapped pens, Catherine Eberle, a home health nurse who brought her children with her, told the Post-Dispatch. This made her feel “perfectly safe” in the moment.
But Eberle, 31, told the newspaper that the news of the worker testing positive has left her feeling angry.
“I just wish more people would have more concern for other people around them, not just for themselves,” Eberle told the Post-Dispatch.
Authorities are now asking everyone who was present at the site on Tuesday to closely monitor for symptoms. County poll workers were not tested for the virus nor asked if they were positive before Election Day, Bahr told the Post-Dispatch.
“If we had known anybody was positive, we would have asked them not to work,” Bahr told the paper.