Vote Russ Diamond for State Representative

Will Contact Tracing Cancel Your Vote?

As you may be aware, I am currently self-quarantining after being a "close contact" on September 29th of another member of the House of Representatives who later tested positive for COVID-19.

I am not sick. I do not expect to get sick. This isn't my first rodeo – you may recall that the same thing happened back in May. I wasn't sick then, and I had no expectation of getting sick after being a "close contact" of a different member of the House who later tested positive for COVID-19, but I had to self-quarantine for 14 days after that "close contact" incident.

I place quotation marks around the words "close contact" because for COVID-19 contact tracing purposes, the phrase has a specific meaning. "Close contact" is not simply passing someone in a hallway or holding a door open for them. According to House of Representatives policy, a "close contact" is a person who was within 6 feet of an individual for 10 minutes or more or if they had direct physical contact with the individual who later tested positive for COVID-19. One would qualify as a "close contact" if one were in either of those circumstances during the 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms in the infected individual.

I was contact traced, both in the current instance and back in May, by virtue of the location of my seat on the floor of the House of Representatives. In May my seat was immediately behind the individual who tested positive. In the current instance, my seat is immediately in front of the individual who tested positive. Although I actually moved my seat on the floor in the interim, apparently "close contact" bad luck traveled with me.

As a result of being a "close contact," I must now self-quarantine for the 14 day period beginning on September 29th. It's not just staying home; it's also missing out on previously scheduled engagements. In May I was not able to be on the House floor to participate in debate when the final vote was being taken on my HR836 to terminate the governor's disaster emergency. This time, I had to cancel several events, including my own wedding ceremony and reception.

While those are personal inconveniences, they can be dealt with and handled. But now I'm thinking about Election Day. I, like many others, have been committed to voting in person. But what if I get contact traced and have to self-quarantine again before the election? Any Pennsylvanian who is contact traced and forced to self-quarantine for a 14-day period beginning October 20th or later will still be under quarantine on November 3rd.

We're still about a month out, so I'm considering my options.

I could chance it and hope it doesn't happen again. But with the way my luck has gone so far, I'm not feeling it.

I could apply for a mail-in ballot. The application deadline for a mail-in ballot is October 27th. That would certainly take care of voting, but for me Election Day is not just about casting my personal vote. It's an all-day marathon of visiting polling places and interacting with others, although it will be different this year.

Finally, I could make certain I won't miss Election Day by conducting a preemptive self-quarantine beginning on October 20. If I have no contact with anyone, I can't get caught up in any contact tracing and quarantine scenario. It's not a really good option, but one I'm seriously considering for important events such as Election Day and my wedding.

I don't relish the thought of separating myself from others in advance of every significant event. I'm an "in-person" guy. We're scheduled to be in session in Harrisburg on October 20th and 21st. I can cast a House vote and attend committee meetings remotely from home, but it is no substitute for organic face-to-face conversations with other members and staff. If you're stuck doing Zoom meetings for work, you know what I mean. It's just not the same. We all need the benefit of human interaction.

I'm not afraid of COVID-19 (I think I had it back in February after meeting with someone who mentioned they had recently returned from China), but the practical impact of the official response gives me pause. It has given me great pause since March 16th when the governor abruptly shut down restaurants. The next day, I circulated the initial co-sponsorship memo for HR836. The quarantining of healthy individuals is just one more response that gives me pause.

If you're committed to voting in person, you should weigh your options as well. You could become a subject of contact tracing and quarantine at any time. If your quarantine is a result of "close contact" on October 20th or later, your quarantine will include Election Day. You don't have to do anything wrong and you don't have to be sick. It doesn't even matter if you wear a mask or not - they don't even ask the question.

Like me, you just have to be in the right place at the wrong time. Twice.

The deadline to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot is October 27th. If you get contact traced after that deadline has passed, you'll need to apply for an emergency absentee ballot. There are more hoops to jump through, but it can be accomplished. Your county Board of Elections is just a phone call away for assistance.

Know your options, and don't let contact tracing cancel your ability to vote!

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