JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state’s chief medical officer is encouraging Alaskans to vote early amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
“I think if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that if we’re kind and we work together and we plan ahead, we’re better off,” Dr. Anne Zink said, adding that one never knows if they might come in contact with an infected person and have to quarantine.
More than 120,000 people have requested absentee ballots, mostly for delivery by mail, according to the Division of Elections. More than 7,600 have voted in person since early voting started Monday, division statistics show.
Division Director Gail Fenumiai, in a teleconference with reporters also attended by Zink and state health Commissioner Adam Crum Tuesday, said elections and health officials encourage those with health concerns to take advantage of absentee voting options. Besides requesting ballots by mail, voters can ask to get ballots sent to them via email or fax.
Fenumiai said the division is taking the same precautions for the Nov. 3 general election that it took for in-person voting in the primary. Those measures include having available for voters masks, gloves and hand sanitizer; having markers to help waiting voters maintain distance; and requiring poll workers to wear masks or face shields and to clean equipment and surfaces throughout the day. Officials strongly encourage voters to wear masks, she said.
Crum said voting “is one of the most important things that we do as citizens” and said considerable work has gone into planning for a safe election.
“So the number one message to Alaskans is, you can vote safely,” he said. The state considers voting to be a “critical personal need” and plans to reach out to any communities with shelter-in-place orders to ensure residents are able to vote, Crum said.
The state health department last week said COVID-19 cases were not just increasing “but accelerating across Alaska.” Alaska has reported about 11,600 resident cases since the start of the pandemic and 68 deaths related to COVID-19.
The state on Wednesday reported 34 available adult intensive care unit beds and 538 available adult in-patient hospital beds. The health department said 41 people diagnosed with COVID-19 currently were hospitalized.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Earlier this month, in response to a legal challenge, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower-court ruling eliminating witness requirements for absentee ballots for the election.