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Coronavirus face masks at polls encouraged, but not required in some states

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While public health officials recommend that you wear a mask to help prevent the spread of coronavirus while at the polls on Tuesday, many election officials across the country have said it’s not a requirement in order to cast a vote.

“Voters are encouraged but not required to wear a face covering while at a polling place for the purpose of voting in an election,” said an update on Michigan’s website, which echoes statements made by officials in states like Pennsylvania, California, Virginia and elsewhere.

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Some states have said they will require voters who refuse to wear a mask to cast their vote either curbside or at an isolated location. Meanwhile, in Texas, a federal appeals court halted an order that would’ve required voters to wear a face mask while at the polls.

And if you do follow public health guidelines and wear a mask while voting, there may be circumstances that require you to temporarily remove it, such as identification procedures or if a voter has trouble breathing or is otherwise unable to wear a face covering.

Should a voter find themselves without a mask or face covering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several tips to help keep both voters and poll workers safe from COVID-19.

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“In jurisdictions where voters’ masks may need to be removed to support identification procedures, alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be provided at the station so voters can sanitize their hands after removing their masks,” the CDC said. “A plastic barrier between the voter and the poll worker can provide additional protection. Post signs providing instruction on proper removal and handling of masks.”

Masks can also make it more difficult to lip-read or understand what is trying to be communicated, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. On Tuesday, poll workers can help by providing written communication, posting information/instructions, and decreasing background noise. Lip reading can also be supported with clear masks, face shields or plexiglass barriers.

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“Consistent with applicable law, election officials should consider having supplies, such as clear face coverings available, to ensure that voting is accessible to people with disabilities,” the CDC states.

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Poll workers have also been instructed to encourage mask usage by either offering free masks to voters and by posting signs in visible locations that promote behaviors to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday, the U.S. had tallied over 9.2 million cases of coronavirus and more than 231,000 deaths. A number of regions are seeing a surge in cases, as health officials have urged the public to refrain from letting so-called “coronavirus fatigue” set in, especially as the U.S. heads into flu season.

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