The Virus in The Polling Booth | The Reader’s Weekly COVID Roundup: Sept. 28, 2020


As we’re nearing election day, the news about COVID-19 has waned for a saturation of political coverage highlighted by a few political bombshells. 

(if you’re reading this you better be registered to vote. You can do it online!)

There’s the story about Omaha being a potential election decider that keeps gaining steam and President Donald Trump paid way less in taxes than your average middle-class Nebraskan. But what role does the virus play in the election?

A big one.

Whether we’re talking about how we vote (the shift from in-person to mail-in voting) or the basic threat it plays to democracy as nearly two-thirds of Americans believe it will disrupt the election, according to Pew Research Center. But there’s also the issues of inequity highlighted by COVID-19 that have galvanized some voters.

The hardest-hit zip code in Douglas County has thousands more confirmed cases than the next highest county. Zip code 68107 in South Omaha is home to many Hispanic people, who are overrepresented in COVID-19 cases compared to their portion of the population. The area is also in direct proximity to many of Omaha’s meatpacking plants, which have long been a nexus for the virus’ spread.

Meanwhile unemployment is also starting to show disparities. While most people are returning to work, Black Nebraskans are five times more likely to be unemployed, according to data from the Nebraska Department of Labor. That’s a big change from early in the pandemic when all races shouldered the burden of the economic downturn relatively even, compared to their shares of the population.

In talking to voters in that area for an upcoming story (online and in newsstands Thursday), many people did think about COVID-19 and the effect it’s had on their community as a reason to vote. That goes in tandem with issues of racial justice that have arisen and the renewed conversation among the general public that the conversation should focus on housing, food security and community services.

To be fair, most people didn’t get so down in the weeds. While it flavored their opinion, the meat and potatoes of their political leanings were rooted in big issues like the president and the direction of this country, like almost every other American, I imagine. But still, hard to deny that COVID-19 will have a presence in the polling booth this fall (hopefully only metaphorically and also uhhhhh please don’t vote in person if you can help it??).

Its role may only intensify as the days draw nearer too.

Nebraska is experiencing its worst caseloads since the early days of the pandemic, and we seem on track to surpass even that.

Statewide the seven-day average for cases hit 425 yesterday. The current peak is 437, which Nebraska hit on May 6. The latter number is also influenced by a few outliers which, if removed from the data, would probably reduce that number. The increase also comes at a time when statewide testing has fallen off and the positivity rate keeps getting higher. The seven-day average for yesterday was 13.4%–also the highest it’s been since May. 

All of this and we’re still in Phase 4 of the reopening process, which one could argue is a bit of a misnomer because it feels like we’ve been reopened for months. Of course there used to be restrictions for bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, hairdressers, ect. Now there’s none, aside from local mask mandates of course, and bigger venues are having crowds again.

What a crazy time right?

There’s hope though in focusing on the things we can control. We can vote, we can wear masks and socially distance, we can educate those around us.

In that same vein (shameless plug time) you can support local journalism like the kind you’re reading right now! By subscribing to The Reader, you’re supporting stories that target social inequities with solution-based stories as well as daily coverage like my COVID-19 data page or this weekly column. Of course there’s also loads of cultural coverage every month and daily online that cover food, theater, music and a variety of other topics.

And if you can’t subscribe now and just want to share the good word by Tweeting out some stories or sharing them on Facebook, that’s just fine too. You can also share our effort to tell the stories of those we’ve lost to COVID-19. As of this morning 470 people have died due to the virus. 

We know so little about so many of them. If you know someone who’s passed or would be willing to call on others to share their stories, we’d greatly appreciate it.

These are crazy times indeed. However, if this summer has taught us anything. There is strength in numbers and there is hope in influencing change by making your voice heard. So whatever your leanings are, just get educated and get involved. Don’t stand on the sidelines and let others decide your community’s direction for you. 


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