The Infectious Disease Society of America held a news conference Wednesday morning addressing safety precautions to follow to help ensure a safe voting process for the 2020 election during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The act of voting is a very profound display of resilience and love and commitment for this country,” Myrna Pérez, director of Voting Rights & Elections, Democracy, at the Brennan Center for Justice, said during the conference.
The director said the coronavirus pandemic has caused a challenge for this year’s election but noted that there are measures that can be put in place to protect voters’ safety, ultimately why she teamed up with the IDSA to put out recommendations.
“Voting by mail is the safest method of voting,” Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, vice-chair of the Global Health Committee, Infectious Diseases Society of America, stated during the conference.
However, a full in-mail voting process is not feasible, according to Perez.
“Technology is not able to handle a scale up so quickly,” she said, noting the appropriate manpower is not in place to deal with the demand.
Perez added that poll booths are necessary not only because mail can be unreliable, but because polling sites offer onsite guidance such as language interpretation or physical help for those who are visually impaired or have questions about the voting process.
If you head to the polls, Kuppalli said to vote early to avoid crowded lines and to “wear a mask, follow good hand hygiene and maintain 6 feet distance.”
Kuppalli, also an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, added to “try to engage in curbside voting if available.”
When arriving and entering the polling booth, experts suggested voters wipe down surfaces before filling out the ballot and be sure to wear a mask and wash hands before and after voting. They recommended not bringing children or others who do not have to be present to vote in an effort to limit crowding and exposure.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Kuppalli suggested limiting attending social gatherings to contain transmission of the virus in the community.
For those working the polls, Kuppalli said that it is important to “protect yourself – wear a mask, eye protection, maintain physical distance and get tested before the election and get tested after the election.” In some circumstances, a face mask and face shield is recommended if a voter is sick and you come in contact with them.
The experts also recommended certain measures for polling sites to follow to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Both speakers suggested having curbside voting, increase the number of polling sites to avoid crowding and consider outdoor venues like football fields and well-ventilated arenas and conference centers to allow distancing between voters.
The speakers also recommended sites use a unidirectional flow and have spaces marked for distancing physically while voters wait to cast votes. They also recommended that polling booths be thoroughly cleaned every few hours and surfaces wiped between voters.
Both speakers said it is important for public health officials to work with community leaders on setting up a safe voting system.
“All communities need to look at the resources they have,” Kuppalli added.
For more recommendations on voter safety, click here.