For anyone concerned about the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, including state officials, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s announcement Tuesday that a record number of new COVID-19 cases was confirmed during the previous 24 hours has to be a cause for concern.
That’s because millions of Pennsylvanians–including individuals who likely have the highly-infectious disease but aren’t exhibiting symptoms of it–are currently heading to the polls to vote in the presidential election.
In its daily update, the health department reported that 2,875 new cases were confirmed Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to date in the state to 214,871.
The department also announced 32 new deaths from COVID-19, which brings Pennsylvania’s death toll from the disease to nearly 9,000.
On Monday, the health department said it was concerned about “substantial” community transmission of the coronavirus now occurring in Lehigh and dozens of other counties.
Due to the level of transmission in those counties, health and education department representatives will be speaking with school district officials about their learning plans, which according to Department of Education guidelines should be hybrid or fully-remote wherever substantial community transmission is occurring.
Although it is located in Northampton County, the Saucon Valley School District has also seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases at its high school over the past week, with officials opting to close the school for two weeks after five new cases were reported.
Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler said the high school’s gym was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before opening as a polling place for residents of Lower Saucon Township District #1 and Hellertown borough’s third ward at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf and health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine continue to stress the wearing of face masks or coverings to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Photos taken at most polling places show most voters waiting to enter them wearing face masks, however state officials have state previously that anyone who is not wearing a mask will not be denied the opportunity to vote.
A PennLive.com story published last week outlines the confusing, seemingly contradictory exemption to the state’s current COVID-19 mitigation regulations under which voters are strongly urged by not required to wear masks.
Face masks are required in businesses and other public places in which it is not possible to maintain at least six feet of distance from individuals from outside one’s own household, under a state health order that first took effect in April and has been updated since then. However, individuals with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are not required to do so, and need not provide proof of their condition.
Northampton County reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and no new deaths. Lehigh County also reported no new deaths, but had nearly double the number of new cases as its neighbor, with 83 reported Monday according to health department data.
The Wolf administration recommends the following steps to help reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
- Clean surfaces frequently.
- Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are feeling unwell.
- If you must go out, you are required to wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing.
- Download the COVID Alert PA app and make your phone part of the fight. The free app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “covid alert pa.”
For information specific to voters in Saucon Valley, click here. For live updates on the election from throughout Northampton County, click here. Problems related to voting should be reported to the state by calling 1-877-868-3772, which is Pennsylvania’s Election Day hotline. For more information about voting in Pennsylvania, click here.