MHD: Data from 30% of new COVID-19 cases shows 7 possibly associated with spring election

MILWAUKEE -- Officials with the Milwaukee Health Department confirmed Tuesday, April 21 there may be seven cases of COVID-19 associated with Wisconsin’s April 7 election, which required in-person voting.

MHD officials noted in a news release this is a rapidly developing situation, and more information such as polling locations, will be provided as it becomes available.

According to the MHD, on April 8, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services added “election activity” to its list of COVID-19 investigation questions in the state disease registry (Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System- WEDSS). WEDSS is used to notify public health and manage disease investigations including contact tracing. The election activity query attempts to capture anyone that may have voted in person or worked at a polling place including location on April 7.

MHD is monitoring any new cases that began after that date as the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days -- ending Tuesday, April 21.

“Please note that as of April 20th, we only have 30% of the investigation data from new cases which indicated participation in election activity," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik. "We hope to have complete data by the end of the week. Regardless, we will provide a complete update, ruling out any confounders, once we have it.” Anyone that voted in person or worked at a polling site should continue to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. Please contact your physician and if you do not have one, please connect with your local community health center or urgent care for screening and testing if warranted."

MHD officials noted many questions about data and correlations between election activities and incidence of COVID-19, and said some reasons for delayed information at this point in time may be a case declined to provide this info to their local health department, the case did not develop symptoms until later in the incubation period, therefore, they were not tested until recently and/or lab turnaround time which may delay reporting to the local health department where the case resides; this will delay the start of the investigation and contact tracing.

"While we continue to monitor cases of COVID-19 linked to election activity, we know that gatherings of any size let alone thousands of people are detrimental to our efforts to slow the spread of this pandemic," MHD officials said in the release. "We encourage everyone to continue to practice social/ physical distancing of 6 feet from others and to wear masks/ face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

We can expect a more comprehensive COVID-19 Milwaukee County election impact update (which includes the city of Milwaukee and 10 local health departments in the county) next week, officials said.

A DHS spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday:

"Public health officials continue to interview people who have tested positive with COVID-19 and query whether someone has reported voting in person, or working at the polls. Since we only have data on positive cases (without a comparison group of people who were not tested or tested negative), there is no way to know with certainty if any exposures at the polls that are reported are, in fact, attributable to COVID-19 illness.

So far, 19 people who tested COVID-19 positive after April 9 have reported that they voted in person or worked the polls on Election Day; several of those people reported other possible exposures, as well."