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5 Canyon County poll workers test positive for COVID-19, some elections office staff out

A lack of poll workers has been an ongoing concern in many parts of the nation this year due to the pandemic.

CALDWELL, Idaho — The novel coronavirus pandemic is beginning to affect resources at the Canyon County Elections Office.

The Idaho Press reports five poll workers who worked at O’Connor Field House in Caldwell last week tested positive for COVID-19, county spokesman Joe Decker confirmed Wednesday. The infected poll workers have been home since testing positive, Decker said.

The Idaho Press was contacted by readers expressing concern that elections office employees had also tested positive. Decker said it is county policy not to discuss employee health matters.

Reached by phone, county Clerk Chris Yamamoto reiterated that policy to the Idaho Press. When asked about his own health status, Yamamoto said, “I answered the phone and I feel good.” 

When pressed on the COVID-19 status of the elections office employees, Yamamoto said “I think we have some COVID-positive” staff members.

RELATED: Canyon County releases Election Day and early voting poll location details

Decker said the number of elections office employees varies from six to ten, many have been working out of the office this week.

A lack of poll workers has been an ongoing concern in many parts of the nation this year due to the pandemic. Poll workers are typically older volunteers who may be more at risk to illness from the new coronavirus.

In September, Yamamoto announced Canyon County would have five consolidated locations for the Nov. 3 election because “we frankly don’t have enough experienced poll workers to open locations in all 64 precincts.”

After complaints that so few polling locations would suppress voters, Yamamoto announced Oct. 2 that the county would have 21 polling locations for Election Day and five for early voting.

He said at the time that the office was hosting poll worker training every day that week with around 150 poll workers each day.

RELATED: Voter Guide 2020: Everything you need to know about the November election in Idaho

The Idaho Press interviewed one of the O’Connor Field House poll workers who tested positive for COVID-19. They said in their estimation only 30% to 40% of those at the polling location during the worker’s time there were wearing masks. The poll worker tested positive within six or seven days after starting work at O’Connor Field House, they said. The poll worker said they wore either a mask or a face shield, sometimes both while at work.

They said that Yamamoto was frequently at the location and was not wearing a mask; when voters asked him why he wasn’t wearing one, he responded that masks weren’t required in Canyon County. The poll worker also said there was talk about the coronavirus being a hoax among workers at the O’Connor Field House.

After the five positive cases were confirmed among poll workers at the O’Connor Field House, Decker said the county would still be encouraging, not requiring, masks. He said the county is actively sanitizing the polling location and checked that voters and poll workers would be 6 feet from one another. The polling location will remain open for early voting, which ends Friday.

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.

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More from our partners at the Idaho Press: BPD says polls will be safe for voters on Nov. 3

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At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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