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Multiple Chicago Primary Poll Workers Later Fell Ill With COVID-19, One Poll Worker Died

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago voters were warned Monday night that they might have been exposed to the coronavirus while voting in last month's primary.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Dana Kozlov reported, one man who served as a poll worker for the March 17 primary has since died of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the number of voters possibly exposed is growing.

Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said letters have gone out to poll workers, field investigators, polling place proprietors, and voters in multiple precincts where a poll worker went on to fall ill with COVID-19.

Letters have gone out in Precincts 8, 27, and 28 in the 28th Ward, for which the polling place was Andrew Jackson School at 1340 W. Harrison St.; and Precinct 44 in the 8th Ward, for which the polling place was The Montclare at 1200 E. 78th St.

Letters will soon go out to Precincts 29 and 32 in the 29th Ward and Precincts 6 and 29 in the 38th Ward, which all voted at the Dever School at 3435 N. Osceola Ave.; and Precinct 27 in the 17th Ward, for which the polling place was Zion Hill Baptist Church at 1460 W. 78th St.

Letters will also go out to four other precincts which all voted at the same location.

The poll worker who died was identified as Revall Burke, 60, who was also a city worker. Tributes to Burke poured in, with Ald. David Moore (17th) praising Burke's commitment to working as a longtime election judge.

Revall Burke
Revall Burke (Credit: Burke Family)

The Zion Hill Baptist Church was the site where Burke was working. Allen confirmed that Burke died on April 5, after getting sick just five days after working the primary.

The Board of Election said the letters were going out to sites where a poll worker or voter fell ill, but the letters only reference poll workers.

The text of the letters is:

Dear Voter,
The Board of Elections has been notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19 by a Poll worker who worked on Election Day, March 17, 2020 at your precinct. We are notifying you because you voted at your assigned precinct that day and may have come into contact with this individual. Although the Board took every precaution possible by supplying poll workers with hand sanitizers, gloves, and instructions for wiping down the equipment, the fact remains that an individual who has now tested positive was likely present while you were voting.

Please follow all protocol that has been set forth by our Federal, State and local agencies if you feel that you may be experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. If you have tested positive after 17 March 2020, we would greatly appreciate being notified of your situation….

I hope that you remain healthy and safe during these trying times.
Lance Gough
Executive Director

Whether the infected poll workers ended up transmitting the virus to others is not yet clear.

But Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady stressed that anyone who is not already sick likely was not exposed while voting.

"The longest time that we consider an incubation for coronavirus – meaning the time that someone was exposed until they might develop symptoms and be sick is 14 days. In most cases, that's about five days," Arwady said. "And so, I would not have concern about something that occurred more than 14 days ago, you know, leading to infection at this point."

At his daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker was asked about the news of the poll worker's death, and whether holding the election might have been a mistake.

Pritzker emphasized that while it is different in other states, the governor does not have the constitutional or legal right to postpone the election in Illinois. That decision is requires the approval of the Illinois General Assembly.

But in the days leading up to the primary, warning flares were launched by election officials about postponing the election.

Pritzker said he urged people to vote early and get mail ballots before the primary, and is urging that people do the same for the general election in November.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with continuing concerns about COVID-19, said the city Board of Elections and the state need to take a hard look at moving to an entirely vote-by-mail election in November.

Burke's family declined to talk with us Monday evening.

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