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Employee at Kootenai County Elections office tests positive for COVID-19 during early voting

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 21, 2020

One employee has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Kootenai County elections office and several others are isolating at home as the county kicks off the first week of early voting.

The employee tested positive Tuesday, and two others who were in close proximity were sent home, said Chad Houck, chief deputy for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. The office was cleaned Tuesday evening.

Temporary workers who were helping with the election Tuesday were also sent home until they were cleared. All temporary workers should return to work Thursday.

Houck said the election worker who tested positive is in stable condition while isolating at home.

Houck flew to Coeur d’Alene Tuesday evening to assist the Kootenai County elections office.

He said the office re-opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, and elections staff were following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He said he had been in contact about the proper protocol with the Panhandle Health District.

He said there have been positive COVID-19 cases in other elections offices across the state, but none during early voting.

The infection at the elections office comes as the entire state sees a surge in cases. As of Wednesday evening, there were 31 people at Kootenai Health hospital with COVID-19, 11 of whom were in critical care. According to the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard, around 987 cases were confirmed in the state Wednesday and more than 55,600 had been confirmed total.

The elections staff will continue to be open for early voting during the normal hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office will be cleaned throughout the day and in the evening after the office closes.

A few voters who waited in line at the elections office Wednesday morning said they were concerned about coronavirus, and that was one of the factors in their decision to vote early.

Luigi Marioni, who is at risk of complications from COVID-19, said he had been very cautious and not let anyone visit his home since the pandemic started. He said voting in person likely wasn’t the safest, but it’s how he has always voted and he wanted to cast his vote as soon and as safely as he could. He said he also worried his vote wouldn’t be counted if he used an absentee ballot.

“It’s a confusing time,” he said. “We just feel like we have to go with what we know.”

Houck said more than 1 million people have registered to vote in Idaho ahead of this election, which puts the state on track to break records in voter participation if most of those who registered turn out at the polls.

In the first two days of early voting, nearly 1,800 participated in Kootenai County and more than 44,000 participated statewide. The majority of those who agreed to be interviewed for this story at the Kootenai County elections office said they had never voted early.

Ted and Rose Adams, Coeur d’Alene residents, said they voted early to avoid the long lines on election day.

Rose Adams said 2020 was the first time she has ever voted.

She said in the past, it’s been difficult for her to manage work, family, staying informed on the issues and going in person to vote, but after watching the debates and the news this year, she realized she needed to participate.

“After the debate, I figured I’ve got to get down there,” she said.

Rose Adams said she planned to vote for President Donald Trump and Ted Adams declined to say who he was voting for.

Allan and Yvonne Lakoduk also voted early for the first time, saying they wanted to get their 2020 vote over with.

The couple were among a steady stream of voters who stopped by the elections office in the first three days of early voting, braving rain and cold to wait in line to cast a ballot. The two used to travel to Arizona in the winter and had voted with absentee ballots several times, but said they were supporting Trump this year and wanted to cast their ballots as early as they could.

“It’s probably the most important election ever,” Allan Lakoduk said.

Mark and June Taylor, a couple from Hayden who voted for Trump, said they worried about the security of this election, COVID-19, and more fires or windstorms or some other disaster occurring before the election.

“You just don’t know,” Mark Taylor said. “We just wanted to come down and do it here so that we know it’s done, and make sure our vote counts. This vote is critical this year.”

The couple moved to Idaho from Eastern Washington three years ago and had not voted early before this year.

The couple had also heard about cases of voter fraud on TV and decided to go to the elections office as soon as they could to vote.

Narine Kadekian, a Hayden resident who voted for Joe Biden, said she also wanted to vote as soon as she could out of fear for what else could happen to the country in the next few weeks.

“Anything could happen this year,” she said. “I don’t trust 2020.”

Kadekian said she also believed it was important to get her vote counted as soon as she could because she believes this election could change the course of Democracy.

“Our country – everything is at stake,” she said.

Early voting will be available from now until Oct. 30 at the Kootenai County Elections Office, 1808 N. Third St. in Coeur d’Alene and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 23, and the request can be mailed, emailed, faxed or dropped off at the elections office.

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