SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — An election and the subsequent announcement that Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz, the top election official in the state’s largest county, has tested positive for COVID-19 create a “difficult situation,” said Dr. Elizabeth Racz.

Racz is a professor and epidemiologist with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Her doctorate is in biology and her master’s is in public health. Racz also has experience working with the New Mexico Department of Health while on the staff at the University of New Mexico.

The South Dakota Department of Health said in an email response to KELOLAND News it could not comment on individual cases due to HIPAA but, “A person who tests positive for COVID-19 is contacted by DOH to identify and notify close contacts. A close contact is any individual spending 15 minutes or more with a positive case within 6 feet during a 24 hour period while infectious.”

“I think it will be important to do contact tracing,” Racz said.

While thousands of county residents used absentee ballots or voted early before November 3, there were still thousands who voted on Election Day. Also dozens of volunteers and county staff were involved in poll work on Nov. 3 and the counting of ballots that continued until about 5 p.m. on Nov. 4.

County officials said the auditor’s staff and election workers were notified of the COVID-19 case as soon as possible.

Racz said a person with the coronavirus can transmit the virus to seven to 10 people. The average spread with one case may be 1.5 or 2 but “that’s an average,” Racz said. Some people with COVID-19 may not transmit the virus to anyone

“The virus doesn’t spread on an average,” Racz said.

In general, an election can create scenarios that may increase the chances of coronavirus spreading.

People are gathering and one person can spread the virus, Racz said.

Racz said wearing masks, good hand hygiene and physical social distancing are still some of the best ways to combat the coronavirus.

“We know we can spread the virus without symptoms,” Racz said.

Litz was seen by KELOLAND News staff on Nov. 3 and 4 wearing a mask but there were times when the mask was not covering his mouth.

In terms of how the DOH shares information with the general public, “I’m certainly in favor of transparency,” Racz said. Yet, she can’t speak specifically to how the DOH will handle the case.

Racz encouraged people who may believe they have been exposed to coronavirus at any time to get tested. They should also make a plan for work and life in case they do test positive, she said.

Litz said in a Nov. 4 KELOLAND News story that some of his employees had been in isolation because of issues with COVID-19.

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