County Erects Plexiglass Barrier after Elections Coordinator Refuses to Wear Mask
Just days after a Comal County election judge walked out of a mandatory training session because Comal County Elections Coordinator Cynthia Jaqua refused to wear a mask, election clerks arrived to find their instructor standing behind a new Plexiglass barrier.
Jaqua did not wear a mask throughout today’s class and did not social distance during hands-on training for using and cleaning voting machines.
Jason Gillett, the Pct. 105 chair for the Democratic Party who represents Startzville, said he thinks she did a good job of keeping people safe anyway.
“I don’t see how a mask would have improved anything for anyone.”
In July, Gillett spent three days in a hospital’s intensive-care unit (ICU) battling respiratory complications from the COVID-19 virus.
“Those three days were enough for me to get to know it as well as I care to,” he said.
The new plexiglass barrier should be enough to convince most poll workers that Comal County’s doing everything it can to keep them safe, he said.
County Public Information Officer Cary Zayas said Thursday that Comal County’s Elections Center is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for both voters and poll workers.
“Our elections coordinator and county clerk have been proactive in ensuring public safety during all trainings and have several measures in place to protect both the public and staff including maintaining a safe social distance, limiting class size to no more than ten persons per session, using Plexiglas in all locations where there is face-to-face contact with the public, continuous sanitizing of equipment after every use, providing hand sanitizer to the public, and strongly encouraging people to wear a mask in public,” she said in an email.
Jaqua Cancels Mask Critic
However, Jaqua or someone in her office abruptly canceled Thursday training for the wife of a retired New Braunfels physician who has openly criticized her decision not to wear a mask.
Dr. Joel Dunnington is a retired professor who worked as a radiologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and served on the Texas Medical Association Council on Public Health for nine years. He was considered a go-to expert in public health before he moved to River Chase in 2014.
His wife learned early Thursday that her slot on the day’s training roster was removed. The woman who called also notified her that Joel Dunnington’s training session on Monday was canceled.
Dunnington said the situation is ludicrous.
“If she’s up there in front of the class, spewing out stuff, talking for two hours, she needs to wear a mask,” he said. “There’s no vaccine. If you are elderly and obese and have heart disease and other comorbidities, you should try hard not to catch it.”
Plexiglass helps some, but doesn’t reduce the aerolosized viral particles, he said.
Dunnington said he first met Jaqua when he counted absentee ballots several years ago.
County offices were closed today, but Dunnington said he plans to get on the phone first thing Monday to find out why he and his wife were removed from the list after the Elections Office scheduled their training sessions the week before.
According to Pew Research, in the 2018 general election, around six-in-ten U.S. poll workers (58%) were ages 61 and older, including roughly a quarter (27%) who were over 70.
Nationally, there are concerns that enough older Americans won’t show up to work at the polls for fear of COVID-19, forcing some voting locations to shut down and creating long lines at others.
Dunnington said his age and comorbidities place him at higher risk for the virus, too.
But they won’t keep him away from serving Comal County if Jaqua greenlights his training again.
LWV-CA Says Everyone Should Wear Masks
Lynn Silver, an election judge, said she arrived at Comal County Elections earlier in the week to find all other attendees masked up and sitting six feet apart. Jaqua, standing in front of the room, wasn’t wearing a mask.
“I stood up and waved to Ms. Jaqua from the back of the room, and asked her to please wear a mask since she was doing the training,” Silver said on Facebook. “She answered me saying that the CDC recommends it but she is not required to wear a mask. I then asked her if she could please put on a mask out of respect for people in attendance. She replied that she would not because everyone was social distancing. I thanked her and left. I am shocked that folks are so disrespectful of senior citizens and humans in general when it comes to mask-wearing.”
Zayas said the county abides by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-29, which makes masks mandatory when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public.
However, the order exempts “any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face-covering is strongly encouraged.”
Roxanna Deane, president of the League of Women Voters of the Comal Area, said unless there is a documented health reason, everyone working with voters or training election workers should wear a face covering.
“This protects election staff and workers and sets the example for poll workers,” she said. “These are difficult times and we should all be working to make voters feel as safe as possible when they are casting their ballot.”
During early voting in July, Jaqua said in a statement that all poll workers should wear face coverings for their health and safety and that of others.
Election judges oversee polling locations. Election clerks are tasked with looking at drivers’ licenses, finding voters in the poll book, and providing the numbers to take into the voting machines.
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