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Wisconsin Health Officials To Track Election Day COVID-19 Transmission

DHS: It Could Take Several Weeks To See If In-Person Voting Impacted Spread

Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin's primary election
Voters masked against coronavirus line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin’s primary election Tuesday April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) plans to track COVID-19 transmissions related to Tuesday’s election.

People around the state voted in person after legal and political attempts to postpone the election failed and during Gov. Tony Evers’s stay-at-home order.

In a telephone town hall meeting Thursday with Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said it was a “big disappointment” the election went forward, in possible detriment to public health.

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“The data will show us whether or not there was significant transmission as a result of what were essentially mass gatherings at polling locations around the state,” she said.

That data will take several weeks to show if the election had an impact on transmission, as it takes time for people to develop COVID-19 symptoms, according to a DHS press release. Local public health officials will interview people with confirmed cases about exposures, including exposures on election day, to collect that data.

DHS has also hired more than 120 workers in the last few weeks to help local public health departments track down people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, the release states.

The workers help interview people with positive cases to find out who they have come into contact with and notify those people, a process called contact tracing.

Palm said there aren’t many other tools to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Until there’s a vaccine, until there is medical treatment that is effective, all we’ve got is physical distancing and our ability to very actively manage cases and outbreaks,” she said.

Evers is asking for $17 million in new funding for local public health agencies, as well as 64 additional DHS staff, in a proposed legislative package, according to the DHS release.

“These proposed contact tracing assets will be critical to Wisconsin’s ability to actively manage this pandemic until effective medical treatment or a vaccine is available,” the release states.

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