Election 2020

Coronavirus outbreak hits nearly a dozen Philly election staffers

There’s no evidence so far of a large outbreak at the Pa. Convention Center vote-counting site, with the Spring Garden office considered the center.

The ballot-counting operation inside the Pa. Convention Center

The ballot-counting operation inside the Pa. Convention Center

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

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Nearly a dozen election staffers in Philadelphia have tested positive for the coronavirus in the two weeks since Election Day, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The outbreak occurred sometime during election week and appeared centered at the city’s secondary election office on Spring Garden Street near the Delaware River. To date, there’s no evidence of a large outbreak in the Pennsylvania Convention Center where the city’s ballot counting operation took place.

Philadelphia Health Department spokesperson James Garrow confirmed that late last week, the department received reports of positive test results at the Spring Garden facility and responded by conducting its standard case investigations and contact tracing. He said the Office of City Commissioners contracted directly with the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium to test members of its 145-person staff.

Some who worked at the Pa. Convention Center have tested positive, Garrow confirmed, but it’s not clear if their cases are linked with workplace exposure.

Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors Consortium, said she responded Thursday to a call from the City Commissioners and was told someone had tested positive. Within 24 hours, her group had a makeshift clinic going next to the ballot-counting center.

News of the outbreak hits the Philadelphia election office after weeks of gruelling workload, international scrutiny and attacks from President Donald Trump and his surrogates over the integrity of the vote count. The repeated instigation led to death threats against several commissioners.

Around a dozen City Commissioners staff members, ranks and titles unknown, have so far tested positive, with none experiencing life-threatening symptoms, according to the source.

The city also employed hundreds of temp workers to staff various election week operations, most stationed at the Pa. Convention Center where ballot counting was headquartered. In contrast to that vast, high-ceilinged space, the election office at 520 N. Columbus Blvd., where the outbreak occurred, consists mostly of small, confined rooms.

Asked about risk on the ballot-counting floor, Dr. Stanford noted that workers wore masks and carefully sanitized surfaces during the count.

“They were doing the best they could in that situation,” she said. “But they were in an enclosed space for 12 hours at a time and we know the virus is airborne.”

Stanford said her group conducted around 100 tests on Friday, including vote counters. She encouraged anyone on the counting floor who didn’t get a chance to be tested to visit one of the pop-up sites the consortium runs across the city.

Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Citywide, the virus has continued to spread at an alarming rate since the election.

Daily COVID cases in Philadelphia have spiked higher than during the pandemic’s spring peak, and hospitalizations jumped to a level not seen since May. The city on Monday introduced a new round of restrictions to curb the virus spread.

The City Commissioners plan to release the final results for all races in the November general election on Tuesday night.

This is a developing story and may be updated.

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