'There is small risk:' How to vote safely in person amid COVID-19

UW Health officials are offering tips on staying safe while voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"If you need to vote in person, there is small risk with that -- risk you can mitigate by thinking ahead of time and taking some steps," said Dr. Jeff Pothof with UW Health. "We know a lot about the virus today that we didn’t know earlier in the spring."

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth while voting and waiting in line to vote.
  • Wash your hands before and after you leave the polling place.
  • While waiting in line, use hand sanitizer especially after touching shared surfaces like voting machines or door handles.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with the inside of your elbow or a tissue, even if wearing a mask.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing. Lines might be longer but avoid gathering or crowding.
  • Dress warmly if you expect to be in outdoor lines.
  • To avoid crowds, try to vote during “off-peak” hours like mid-morning if possible.
  • As ever, it is not recommended for a person to leave the house if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • If you are hospitalized and unable to vote in person, you may receive assistance in voting absentee. 
  • If you have COVID-19 symptoms but have not tested positive or been required to isolate, voting curbside at your polling place may be an option. For more information, call your municipal clerk’s office.

The first tip for safe in-person voting: wearing a mask while in-line and inside your polling location. 

"The data behind masks is absolutely irrefutable right now," said Dr. Pothof. 

Dr. Pothof suggested voters bring some items from home.

"It makes the experience a little bit easier if you bring your own pen," said Dr. Pothof. "Blue or black ball-point pen is fine. Bring your own sanitizer."

Milwaukee leaders say polling locations are prepared.

"We’ve spent a considerable amount of money on PPE and other devices to make sure this is safe," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

During the April election, public health officials worked to prevent COVID-19 spread with strict guidelines. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessment found “no clear increase in cases, hospitalizations or deaths were observed after the election, suggesting a possible benefit of the mitigation strategies."

"If you do all these things, most health experts say the benefit of voting, which is so critical to our democracy, outweighs that small risk or risk you’re taking by going to a polling place in person," said Dr. Pothof.

Medical experts suggest trying to vote during off-peak hours like mid-morning to avoid a crowd.

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