University of Chicago Medical Center

Tips for voting safely during a pandemic

COVID-19 is serious—but so is participating in American democracy

Newswise — An election during a global pandemic can present challenges for voters, but there are still safe ways to fulfill your civic duty.

For Mai Tuyet Pho, MD, MPH, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Medicine, the key is to have a plan—whether that means voting by mail, dropping off your ballot early, or avoiding crowds.

“As someone who’s passionate about the importance of participating in American democracy, I can tell you there’s absolutely nothing about COVID-19 that should prevent you from making sure your voice is heard on Nov. 3,” said Pho, an infectious diseases specialist. “However, unlike previous years, voters everywhere will need to spend extra time developing a plan to cast their ballots safely. 

With just a few weeks left until polls close on the 2020 election, Pho offers her top recommendations on how to stay safe when voting.

Vote by mail for the lowest risk

I view this year’s election as one that has tiered risk based on how and when we vote. If possible, vote absentee—assuming it’s not too late to request a mail-in ballot in your state. This is your safest option and lets you vote from home. Make sure you allow enough time to return your ballot by mail or, if you’re short on time, at an in-person drop-off location. Some states require that you sign your envelope and have a witness sign it too.

Vote early to avoid crowds

If you’re unable to do absentee or mail-in voting, vote in person during your state’s early voting period. This option gives you days to pick from and allows you to choose a time when polls may be less crowded, like late mornings or early afternoons. Another benefit to early voting is that you can often pick your early polling location if your city has more than one option. If you’re not sure about crowds, check in with your local election office. Some communities are providing real-time information about wait times at polling locations. Others even allow curbside or drive-through voting to minimize exposure. 

Protect yourself with masks, eye protection and hand sanitizer

You’ve heard doctors like me talk about it again and again, but the best things you can do to stay safe when voting are what you’re already doing every day.

  • Keep at least six feet of distance from other people. You may want more space if you’re in a poorly ventilated area.
  • Wear a face mask at all times and wear some kind of eye protection, especially if you’re inside with others who aren’t wearing masks.
  • Avoid touching your mask and face.
  • Sanitize (or wash) your hands before and after you enter your polling place. 

You may be able to use your own black ballpoint or felt-tipped pen or a stylus to sign in and fill out your ballot, but please check with poll workers at your voting location first to see if that’s acceptable. If not, use the items they provide you and wash or sanitize your hands afterward.

Pay attention to posted informational signs

Polling precincts should be following election-specific infection control guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes things like having visual cues on the floor to ensure there’s enough distance between people and having clearly marked entry and exit signs to avoid bottlenecks. Voting booths should be spaced far apart and they should have supplies like hand sanitizer available. But it’s always a good bet to bring some of your own. 

You may be inclined to try to wipe down a voting machine, pen, or even your ballot before you start voting. But experts say that might damage your ballot or interfere with the accuracy of your voting machine. Instead, sanitize your hands when you walk in and once again on your way out.

Consider your transportation options

If you’re able, avoid public transportation during rush hour when trains and buses are more likely to be crowded. If you’re driving with others or taking a ride share like Lyft or Uber, make sure you’re wearing a mask and the driver is too. It’s best to keep the windows down so there’s lots of fresh air in the vehicle.

Plan to wait

It’s common to face long lines during regular elections. But the social distancing requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic mean long waits may be all but inevitable in some locations. I tell my patients to have a plan and then make sure they have a backup plan. In addition to all the standard social distancing and masking, that means you may want to make sure you have a small water bottle with you or snacks. If you’re diabetic or asthmatic, keep things like an inhaler or insulin with you, too. If you need to remove your mask to eat or drink, do your best to keep it brief. 

Make sure you're feeling well

While COVID-19 can cause severe illness, it can also have very mild forms that seem more like seasonal allergies. If you’re sick, you absolutely need to stay home and avoid people. That’s even more reason to consider voting early or absentee.

I know it can be intimidating to go into a crowded place right now, especially when you don’t have control of other people’s safety precautions. But the important thing to remember is that there are steps you can take to stay safe when you’re casting your ballot. Just make sure you have a plan.

—A version of this story was first published by the University of Chicago Medicine.

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 3718
Released: 20-Oct-2020 5:40 PM EDT
Nearly a Quarter of New York City Transit Workers Report Having Had COVID-19
New York University

A survey of New York City’s bus and subway workers finds that 24 percent report having contracted COVID-19 and 90 percent fear getting sick at work. The pilot study, conducted by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health, in coordination with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, helps document the toll the pandemic has taken on the physical and mental health of essential workers.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 5:10 PM EDT
Viral post claiming Dr. Anthony Fauci was indicted is entirely false

A Facebook post from May that is newly gaining traction says that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading voice of experts in the coronavirus pandemic, has been indicted for treason. This claim is entirely false. Despite President Donald Trump calling him a "disaster," Fauci has not been indicted. There is no news coverage to support this claim, nor any original, credible documents or sources to corroborate it.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 4:10 PM EDT
Safety Considerations for Visiting Primary Care Doctors
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people with chronic health conditions relying on telemedicine rather than seeing their doctor in person when necessary or putting off important visits entirely because they fear being infected. Ann M. Nguyen, an assistant research professor at Rutgers Center for State Health Policy at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, who recently published a paper on safety measures at physician offices, discusses what people should know about visiting their doctor and why putting off appointments that need to be done in person could lead to other health problems.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 3:50 PM EDT
New Jersey, Nation Surpass Halfway Employment Recovery Mark
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

New Jersey gained back half of the jobs lost due to the coronavirus pandemic but a wide disparity remains between higher-income professionals working at home and lower-wage support workers still bearing the brunt of the economic downturn that has gripped the nation, according to a new Rutgers report.

Newswise: 246364_web.jpg
Released: 20-Oct-2020 3:25 PM EDT
Effective ventilation may be a key factor in preventing the spread of COVID-19

During the first wave of COVID-19, which paralyzed the world in spring, it was initially thought that effective hand washing and 2-metre social distancing would help prevent the highly contagious virus.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 3:10 PM EDT
Researchers discovered the second 'key' used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter into huma
University of Helsinki

To efficiently infect human cells, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is able to use a receptor called Neuropilin-1, which is very abundant in many human tissues including the respiratory tract, blood vessels and neurons. The breakthrough discovery was made by a German-Finnish team of researchers led by neuroscientists Mika Simons ,Technical University of Munich, Germany and virologist Giuseppe Balistreri, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 2:50 PM EDT
Population currently sees coronavirus as the greatest health risk
BFR Federal Institute For Risk Assessment

Next on the list of concerns, though notably less frequently mentioned, are unhealthy or wrong diet as well as climate and environmental pollution - these were the most frequently mentioned concerns in February's survey. "The coronavirus pandemic dominates public perception", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

Released: 20-Oct-2020 2:45 PM EDT
Trump Mocked Biden for Saying He'll ‘Listen to the Scientists’

U.S. President Donald Trump emphasized his stark contrast to his opponent Joe Biden in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic when he mocked Biden for saying he'll "listen to scientists."

Released: 20-Oct-2020 2:35 PM EDT
Most psoriasis patients taking immunosuppressants survive COVID-19
National Institute for Health Research

Patients with psoriasis who are taking drugs that affect their immune system have high rates of survival from COVID-19. According to the first findings from a global registry of psoriasis and COVID-19 patients, led by Guy's and St Thomas' clinicians, over 90% survive.

Newswise: Halloween Safety in the Coronavirus Era
Released: 20-Oct-2020 2:20 PM EDT
Halloween Safety in the Coronavirus Era

Halloween isn't going to be the same this year, but families can still have fun while reducing their risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 (coronavirus), says Priya Soni, MD, a Cedars-Sinai pediatric infectious disease specialist.

Showing results

110 of 3718