In Bucks County, officials urge residents to get mail-in ballots

Montgomery and Bucks officials discuss rolling back restrictions

Jim Melwert
April 30, 2020 - 3:17 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  Bucks County officials Thursday said they are taking steps to make polling places as safe as possible for the upcoming primary, but they are urging everyone to get mail-in ballots now.

County Commissioner Diane Marseglia said by law, polling places will open, but officials will be taking precautions.

“We are purchasing plexiglass to be able to kind of have a guard in between people. We will have sanitizer there. We will have pens that will be thrown away there, we will have gloves, we will have masks, so we will be prepared to have a safe election,” she explained.

Pennsylvania’s primary was supposed to be April 28, but it’s been moved to June 2.

Mail-in ballot applications have to be received by the county elections office by 5 p.m. on May 26. 

The post office has warned mail that used to take two or three days can take five or six days because of the pandemic.

If you apply for a mail-in ballot for the primary, you do not need a separate application for the general election in the fall you’ll automatically get one.

Cases 

The county now has over 3,000 positive coronavirus cases and 206 fatalities in total.

Bucks County Health Department director Dr. David Damsker said while they reported 20 deaths Wednesday, they want to be clear that those deaths weren’t all from a single day.

“We’re getting the information sometimes over multiple days. So I want people to be aware we didn’t have 20 deaths (Wednesday) from Bucks County. These are deaths that happened over multiple days, but the way the system that we get reported, whether it via the coroner or whether it's from a laboratory result that comes back after the death occurred, several days, I just want people to realize it was 20 deaths (Wednesday),” he explained. 

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All the deaths were from long-term care facilities from across the county, he said, but he wouldn’t call any single facility a hotspot as 61 facilities in the county have cases among staff or residents. 

Relaxing restrictions

Damsker said officials shouldn’t just focus on the number of coronavirus cases and the number of deaths when making decisions to relax coronavirus-related safety measures; rather, the decisions should evaluate the threat to the community.

“Don’t look at the exact numbers. We’re going to try to present the cases to the public, who’s getting them, why they’re getting them, who’s dying and why, and that’s more important than the actual numbers themselves,” he explained. 

He said he's not trivializing the deaths or the illnesses in nursing homes, but those numbers should be separated from the totals when considering when it’s safe to reopen.

“It doesn’t minimize the deaths, doesn’t minimize the cases we have in those facilities. But it does tell you that those people the residents in those facilities are not walking around. They’re not in the community and the number of our community-related deaths are very low,” he added. 

Damsker said the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes should not be a factor in determining when social distancing measures can be relaxed.

“I do think we should separate the long-term care deaths out of the equation and look to the other deaths, which are very few, with regard to reopening as long as we do it safely,” he said.

Montgomery County

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh said while residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are the vulnerable populations you would expect to be hardest hit, those cases have to be factored into the larger picture, as many of the residents who get the virus end up in the hospital, and the staff go home to their families and communities.

“So they do have to be counted, it’s not as if they are hermetically sealed in some place that has no impact on those of us who don’t have to live in long-term care facilities,” she said. 

Montgomery County officials say 230 of the county’s 275 deaths more than four out of five of them have been nursing home residents.