2020 election

Concerns Raised About COVID at Horizon Church Polling Place After Worker Tests Positive

Jefferson County Presiding Probate Judge James P. Naftel II.  (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Voters who cast their ballots last week at Horizon Church had to endure some very long lines. Now they’ll have to endure concern about possible exposure to COVID-19.

A press release from the office of Jefferson County county manager Tony Petelos says there is a chance persons who voted at Precinct 5120, otherwise known as Horizon Church in Vestavia Hills, on Election Day may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Coincidentally, that is the polling place of Jefferson County Presiding Probate Judge James P. Naftel II, who fielded an Election Day call from his wife about her waiting in the line or returning later.

Naftel said the chief inspector of that polling place alerted him Sunday that a poll worker tested positive for the virus that day. As that was five days after the election, Naftel said he didn’t think much about a potential risk.

“But then, over the next couple days, a couple more poll workers had tested positive,” he said, acknowledging that he doesn’t know names or the roles they played at the polling place. “They may have gone to Waffle House together. I don’t know if they’re all in the same family. I really don’t know if it was directly related to Horizon or if they were COVID-positive or whatever on Election Day. We just don’t know.”

The probate judge consulted county officials about the proper course of action and the Jefferson County Department of Health was alerted. They contacted the chief inspector and ultimately today’s press announcement was released.

According to the press release, JCDH recommends the following for people who voted at Horizon:

  • If you are having any symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, loss of taste or smell or other symptoms, you should be tested for COVID-19.
  • If you are having shortness of breath or other concerning symptoms, you should seek medical care.
  • If you are over the age of 60 or you have a chronic health condition, consider calling your primary care provider to discuss possibly being tested.
  • If you are not having symptoms, continue to monitor your health until at least Nov. 17, which is 2 weeks after the date of possible exposure.

Naftel said he has received no reports of any widespread outbreaks among voters.

“Obviously, my wife and I were both there on Election Day, as were a bunch of our friends,” he said. “We haven’t heard anything on any social media or anything like that. Speaking in a nonofficial capacity, I haven’t heard anything from any of my group of people who all vote there. I really was not worried about it but just out of caution (we’re) making sure people have information.”

Precautions Were Taken

The probate judge said he was at Horizon Church for an hour or so on Election Day. “Everybody was masked,” Naftel continued. “If masks mean anything, everybody ought to be OK because they were (wearing masks) and they even had the plexiglass dividers there, which not every precinct had. They had them there on the tables separating the poll workers who were operating the poll pads and things from the voters.”

The probate judge said his really strong sense is that voters were as protected as much as they reasonably could be from exposure, “certainly more protected than if you just go to any retail store or anything like that.”

Naftel acknowledged a “brief period of time” when the inside was probably a little too crowded. For the most part, everyone was waiting outside throughout the day, he said.