Cramped Queens Polling Sites Amplify Coronavirus Concerns

Maya Kaufman
·2 min read

COLLEGE POINT, QUEENS — As Alexander Hernandez waited nearly two hours to cast a ballot at his College Point poll site the morning of Election Day, the time spent on line in the brisk, quasi-wintery air barely fazed him.

Instead he was preoccupied by the throng of voters packed into the P.S. 29 hallway, in seeming violation of social-distancing requirements.

“You literally had to brush shoulder-to-shoulder with people to get out," Hernandez told Patch.

Hernandez estimated he spent half an hour waiting among them.

His mother, who has asthma and pre-diabetes, putting her at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, also had to wait in the hallway to cast her vote.

“It concerns me that she stood there for that long," he said.

Every Election Day, scores of schools, libraries and community centers across New York City are transformed into poll sites. This year, some locations where voters had long comfortably cast ballots suddenly appeared ill-fit for the function.

Auditoriums and gymnasiums that would have been called cramped in any other year were now viewed as potential accelerants in the spread of the coronavirus, thanks to little ventilation and minimal room for social distancing — both considered by health experts to be key factors in limiting transmission of the virus.

One such site was in the basement of the Boulevard Gardens apartment complex, where one Election Day voter, who asked not to be identified because they live there, said poll workers were seated next to each other and voters could hardly stay more than one or two feet apart from one another.

"There is not enough a lot of room in that basement to socially distance and also cram in polling places, the ballot reader," the voter wrote in a message to Patch.

The voting booths at P.S. 212 in Jackson Heights were in a basement-level gym with no windows, but voters and poll workers wore masks and were able to spread out in the large room, poll worker Giulia Pines said.

"It ended up being a pretty positive and safe seeming experience," Pines told Patch, "but I'm still planning on getting a Covid test in the next few days just to be sure."

The election's role in the spread of the coronavirus won't be clear for some time, but some Queens voters said they felt nervous as they cast their ballots.

Rekha Malhotra, who voted early at the Jackson Heights public library with her partner, called the act the "most unsafe thing we have done during the pandemic."

Both of them got tested for COVID-19 afterwards, Malhotra said.

Fortunately, the results came back negative.

This article originally appeared on the Bayside-Douglaston Patch