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Milwaukee Claims 7 Coronavirus Cases Tied To Controversial Wisconsin Election

At least seven people may have become infected with the coronavirus as a result of Wisconsin's controversial decision to go forward with in-person voting for its April 7 election, Milwaukee's top public health officer said Monday.

"As of today, we have identified seven individuals that contracted, or at least it appears, COVID-19 through election-related activities," said Jeanette Kowalik, the city's health commissioner.

Six cases were voters and one was a poll worker.

Kowalik's office said it was tracking people who voted in-person or worked as a poll worker when diagnosing new coronavirus cases in the city. The office hopes to have more complete information about new cases potentially tied to the election by Friday or next week.

The city's report follows the 14-day period during which coronavirus symptoms generally emerge.

Approximately 400,000 people voted in person after the state Supreme Court rebuffed attempts by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, to move in-person voting to June. Republican leaders in the state legislature also rejected Evers' efforts to conduct the election entirely by mail.

Around the state, polling places were consolidated, voters waited in long lines and officials devised elaborate DIY measuresto protect voters and poll workers from contracting the virus.

Preliminary turnout data suggests that more than two-thirds of voters cast absentee ballots and that overall turnout was in line with past presidential-year elections.

Many election officials and voting-rights advocates fear similar chaos on a nationwide scale this November if states don't move aggressively to expand vote-by-mail options.

If the Wisconsin election is found to have resulted in a significant number of fresh coronavirus transmissions, it's likely to add fuel to the debate about how to safely conduct the fall ballot.

Congress gave states about $400 million for additional election-related safety measures, but many advocates argue states will need between $2 billion and $4 billion to expand voting by mail and offer safe, early and in-person voting options.

In a tweet, the Wisconsin Democratic Party called the new infections "100% avoidable. But Republicans refused to listen to the science and take this crisis seriously."

State public health officials said they hadn't yet seen a spike in election-related cases.

"We have not yet seen indications of an impact from the election," said Andrea Palm, the state Department of Health Services secretary-designee.

Vice President Pence is making a rare official visit Tuesday to Madison, the state capital, to visit a GE Healthcare facility that's making ventilators.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brett Neely is an editor with NPR's Washington Desk, where he works closely with NPR Member station reporters on political coverage and edits stories about election security and voting rights.
Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.