Wisconsin saw no coronavirus infection-rate spike after April 7 election, study says

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A feared spike in Wisconsin’s coronavirus infection rate following its April 7 in-person presidential primary never materialized, although some new cases of the virus were possibly linked to the election, according to a report.

A team of doctors from Wisconsin and Florida plus a mathematician in Alabama examined data from the post-election period of April 12-21, meaning five to 14 days after election, when new cases of the virus from April 7 likely would have become apparent, the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reported Friday.

Prior to the election, Wisconsin’s coronavirus infection rate was about one-third of the rate for the entire U.S. and dropped even lower compared to the U.S. after the election, the study said, according to the newspaper.

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“Our study did not find any significant increase in the rate of new COVID-19 cases following the April 7, 2020, election post-incubation period, for the state of Wisconsin or its three major voting counties, as compared to the US,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“A reduction in daily new case rates in Wisconsin was observed compared to what would have been expected if the rates in Wisconsin had followed the preelection ratios,” the researchers added. “Our initial hypothesis of an increase in COVID-19 activity following the live election was not supported.”

“Our initial hypothesis of an increase in COVID-19 activity following the live election was not supported.”

— Researchers studying Wisconsin coronavirus data 

A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision April 6, the eve of the primary, clearing the way for Wisconsin’s election to proceed, was deemed controversial, as critics feared voters and election workers – including National Guard personnel who were deployed to assist at the polls – could become infected as people congregated at voting sites.

Prior to the court’s decision, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers twice attempted to postpone in-person voting in favor of voting by mail, or a rescheduled in-person vote in June – but state Republicans opposed the plans and the matter was debated in a federal district court before the case went to Washington.

Robert Forrestal, left, wears a full face chemical shield to protect against the spread of coronavirus, as he votes Tuesday, April 7, 2020, at the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wis. (Associated Press)

Robert Forrestal, left, wears a full face chemical shield to protect against the spread of coronavirus, as he votes Tuesday, April 7, 2020, at the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wis. (Associated Press)

In an op-ed published Thursday, two officials from the Republican State Leadership Committee argued that Democrats attempted to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to “change the rules” of the Wisconsin election just weeks before the voting.

The Democrats’ lawsuit “was filed less than three weeks before Election Day, forcing judges to make decisions about things they don’t really know much about – such as administering elections in a fair and secure manner," RSLC president Austin Chambers and judicial fairness official Andrew Wynne wrote in The Hill. “Wisconsin voters were left confused by the legal whiplash.”

Following the election, at least 23 people who voted in person or worked at the polls tested positive for COVID-19, but many of them also reported other potential exposure points besides the election where their infection could have occurred, state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Jennifer Miller told the State Journal.

However, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison claimed that the researchers’ findings didn’t appear to take into account the impact of the governor’s stay-at-home order, which was issued March 25.

The shutdown of social and business activities was likely the primary reason why the state’s infection rate didn’t rise after the election, Professor Thomas Oliver told the State Journal.

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The newspaper identified the researchers as Dr. Bruce Berry, an internal medicine doctor at Froedtert Hospital near Milwaukee; his son, Dr. Andrew Berry, a gastroenterologist in South Miami, Fla; and Madhuri Mulekar, a professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of South Alabama.

About 450,000 Wisconsin voters took part in in-person voting April 7 with another 1.1 million voters submitting absentee ballots, the newspaper reported.

Final results of the election were delayed by nearly a week because the Supreme Court set a deadline of April 13 for absentee ballots postmarked by April 7 to be received. Former Vice President Joe Biden ultimately won the Democratic contest, not long after his last major rival, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ended his own candidacy and endorsed Biden.