Eight days before primaries, coronavirus detection in Ohio shake up voting plans, rallies

By: - March 10, 2020 12:30 am

Photo from The Ohio Channel

A week out from primary voting, state officials are planning to relocate about 75 polling locations from nursing homes and schools to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio.

The announcement came shortly after three Ohioans from Cuyahoga County were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. 

Along with declaring a formal state of emergency, Gov. Mike DeWine said the polls hosted by nursing homes “will have to be moved.”

He also said there will have to be “appropriate action” taken with schools that act as poll locations but do not cancel classes or separate members of the voting public from students. 

Media liaisons to both Secretary of State Frank LaRose and DeWine declined to provide a list of the closed poll locations. 

In a video posted on social media Monday evening, LaRose said he is ordering polls set to take place in “senior citizen living and nursing facilities” to be “relocated.”

LaRose is scheduled to host a press conference Tuesday morning. 

The three diagnoses came one day before two jet-setting presidential campaigns, those of former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, are set to host rallies in Columbus and Cleveland. 

Both had announced plans over the weekend to campaign Tuesday in Cleveland and monitor results of six primary contests, including Michigan and Washington. 

As of Monday evening, neither had indicated they would reschedule their events in Cuyahoga County despite the news that three residents there had tested positive for coronavirus. 

In a statement, Biden’s campaign deferred to state and local health officials. 

“The Biden campaign will continue to closely follow guidance offered by federal and local public health officials on the types of events we hold and how we execute them,” the statement read.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to inquiries. 

Both DeWine and state Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton generally advised against attending large public rallies. DeWine said they’re “probably not a good idea” but also that he wouldn’t cancel them. 

Last week, both DeWine and Acton downplayed any public health threat of political rallies. DeWine said he did not expect voting would be impacted.

Officials offered limited details about the three confirmed diagnoses. DeWine said all three victims are in their 50s. One impacted couple was on a cruise on the Nile river. 

The third person attended the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. Media reports indicate AIPAC was one two Washington D.C. area political gatherings that have led to suspected transmissions of the disease. 

Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican congressman from Ohio, spoke in late February at CPAC, a conservative political event. Two congressmen in attendance have put themselves in “self-quarantine” due to suspected exposure at the event. 

A spokesman for Jordan said the congressman is not believed to be ill. 

“We have confirmed with CPAC that Congressman Jordan did not interact with the affected individual,” said Jordan spokesman Ian Fury. “We are continuing to monitor the situation and have reminded staff of common sense health precautions.”

Along with the three confirmed cases, five Ohioans are under investigation for catching the virus pending test results per state data. Data from Johns Hopkins University accessed Monday evening indicates there are 605 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 22 people have died. 

Political rallies in the coronavirus era? Ohio health officials aren’t worried

Tyler Buchanan contributed to this report.

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.