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St. Charles County Poll Worker Infected With The Coronavirus Dies After Election Day

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:53 p.m. Nov. 5 with comments from St. Charles County officials

A St. Charles County poll worker who knowingly worked on Election Day while sick with COVID-19 has died, county officials said Thursday.

The election judge supervisor had tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday but ignored medical advice to stay home for two weeks and worked at a polling site, Blanchette Park Memorial Hall, in St. Charles. A spokesperson for St. Charles County Board of Elections said the poll worker died within a day of the election, but the county has not disclosed how the person died.

County officials have also not disclosed the person’s identity, age or gender.

The poll worker did not inform election authorities of the positive test result, said St. Charles County Director of Elections Kurt Bahr.

Contact tracers are identifying the person’s close contacts to encourage them to be tested for the coronavirus, including the nine judges the person worked with for around 15 hours on Tuesday.

The poll worker was a supervisor whose duties on Election Day likely did not involve close contact with voters, county officials said. It is unlikely the 1,858 voters who cast ballots at the precinct were infected, Bahr said.

“The time it took, on the average, for voters to get in and out of the polling place was usually within a 10- to 15-minute window, so that time frame is a lot less than for the judges,” Bahr said. Election judges at the polling site worked a 15-hour shift together.

All poll workers in the county were required to wear masks or face shields throughout the day and were separated from voters by plexiglass shields, Bahr said.

In September, St. Charles County election authorities sent poll workers a memo stating they did not have to wear face masks while working and couldn’t force voters to wear them, either. Unlike St. Louis and St. Louis County, St. Charles County does not require face coverings in public places.

“When a voter says something to you about not wearing a face mask or not wearing it correctly. Please put it on properly,” the September memo from Bahr’s office said. “You may act surprised that you don't have a face mask on properly and then apologize as you put the mask on. Wear your mask correctly until the voter leaves the polling place. Please do this every time a voter says something to you.”

The county Board of Elections later changed its policy, after St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann mandated election workers to wear masks. Face coverings were still optional for voters.

People have grown tired of the message to change their behavior to avoid contracting the coronavirus, said Demetrius Cianci-Chapman, the county's director of Public Health.

“But our hospitals are getting very full and our cases are rising and our deaths are increasing, and it is more important than it ever was for people to adhere to that messaging,” he said. “I know it’s really hard at this point, but it’s also crucial for our community.”

Cianci-Chapman advises voters to get tested, regardless of which precinct they voted at.

“There is so much spread of this disease in our community right now, if you were around 200 or 300 people on Election Day, you were around people who have the disease,” he said.

Hospitals in the St. Louis region reported 94 new admissions for the coronavirus on Thursday, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force. That is a record high since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Mercy, BJC HealthCare, St. Luke’s Hospital and SSM Health report their hospitals are at 85% capacity as of Thursday.

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Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
Kayla Drake