Politics

Coronavirus circumstances improve in swing states when the early vote shifts into excessive gear

COVID-19 Response Specialist Alexandra Vizcarra prepares to conduct a nasal swab test at Public Health Madison & Dane County as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues on October 19, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Bing Guan | Reuters

The United States, which has reported more cases and deaths of Covid-19 than any other country, is currently in the middle of its third surge since the pandemic started earlier this year. In the United States, more than 8.7 million cases and at least 225,739 deaths have been counted from the virus, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins and the Covid Tracking Project, the recent wave of cases in the states of the West and the Midwest seems to be the hardest to collide.

Wisconsin is among the most competitive swing states and has faced the largest increase in cases and deaths. Last week, the Badger State reported a proportionally higher number of cases than almost anywhere else in the country except North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the CDC.

Since mid-September, Wisconsin deaths from Covid-19 have risen 47%, data from Johns Hopkins shows.

"We've been preparing for months," said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, on a phone call with CNBC.

Wisconsin has applied numerous security measures to its voting processes. Election workers are equipped with masks and face shields and must regularly disinfect pens, touchscreens and other surfaces. Voters are periodically offered hand sanitizer and painter's tape is used at polling stations to mark where voters should stand in line.

However, Magney noted that state law does not allow voters to be forced to wear face covers in elections. He suggested that people may become infected with the virus "because they don't follow CDC recommended things".

"Certainly everyone would be concerned about the rise in cases," said Magney, "but we don't think that will affect the choice itself."

Trump, who narrowly defeated then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin in 2016, traveled to the state on Tuesday to hold a large personal rally. Health experts, including those in his own administration, have warned the events could significantly increase the spread of the virus.

The president was banned from campaigning earlier this month after it was revealed that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid-19. He has since resumed a full itinerary to catch up with Biden, who has maintained his lead in the national polls.

Biden's campaign has been careful to adhere to social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC and other health experts. The former vice president has traveled less and has hosted relatively few face-to-face events in the last days of the campaign that did not gather large crowds.

Trump's campaign has since disregarded some of these guidelines in relation to the rallies. While masks were provided for attendees, swaths of the crowded crowd at the events refused to wear them.

At the same time, Trump has mocked Biden for speaking to a smaller number of people, contrasting the images of their respective campaign events as evidence that the Democratic candidate is not sparking the buzz.

The president has also complained in the past few days that the media has given too much attention to the coronavirus, and has suggested that the focus on the pandemic is politically motivated.

Numerous states have expanded access to mail-in voting to allow people to cast their ballots without fear of catching the virus in a long line. The president has repeatedly claimed without evidence that such rules will lead to widespread electoral fraud. His campaign encourages Americans to vote in person.

Trump has also claimed that the recent surge in Covid-19 cases is merely due to an increase in the number of tests being performed. But that's not true: cases have increased this month, even if test rates have decreased slightly. The US recorded the highest number of hospital stays in almost two months in mid-October, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Fewer voters remain undecided than at this point in the 2016 cycle. But the recent surge in cases could be enough to push some of those swing-state voters toward Biden, who consistently on which candidate would better handle the pandemic better grades than Trump received.

Other swing states, including Michigan and North Carolina, are also experiencing an upswing. And outbreaks in some states could also affect voting races there – for example in the close race in the Montana Senate between incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines and Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

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