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Waynesboro: COVID-19 in the prosecutor’s office vs. early voting

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COVID-19 is one issue in the public spat between the Waynesboro prosecutor’s office and the city. The bigger issue seems to be a turf battle between the prosecutor and the city over space.

David Ledbetter, the Commonwealth’s attorney, first elected in 2014, then re-elected in 2017, has legitimate issues with the space his office is allotted in the Thomas L. Gorsuch Municipal Building – issues he said he has raised with city leaders dating back to the early days of his first term in the office.

Are the issues with tight space in the office at the root of the cause of the outbreak of COVID-19 – with four confirmed positive tests among his nine-person staff?

Almost certainly.

Was the spread exacerbated by the hundreds of city residents streaming by the office on their way to cast early votes?

Early voting began on Sept. 18, more than a month ago now.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, the city has had a reported 123 confirmed positive COVID-19 tests since Sept. 18.

Cross-reference that to the early-voting data from the Virginia Public Access Project, which puts the city’s early-vote total at 2,426 as of the close of business on Tuesday.

Even if all of the 123 positive tests reported in the city in the past month were among early voters, that would represent 5.1 percent of the early voters – roughly one in 20.

A spread of one in 20, at the absolute most – compared to an incidence of spread of one in two in the prosecutor’s office.

And, of course, no one is suggesting that all of the cases in the city over the past month are early voters.

It is fair to assume, though, based on what we have come to know about COVID-19 spread, that the close quarters in the prosecutor’s office are a key contributing factor in the spread among staffers.

Turning what we know on its head, then, the bigger worry might be for the early voters, not the other way around.

Today marks the 24th day of early voting, meaning we’ve been seeing on average 106 voters per day heading down that hallway to cast their votes.

If those numbers keep pace, we’re looking at another roughly thousand people walking that corridor between now and the end of early voting on Oct. 31.

The prosecutor’s office is right now on pace to reopen on Thursday.

We’ll presume that its staffers are in the clear, COVID-wise, when it opens its doors.

Kudos to Ledbetter and his staff for continuing to do their important jobs the past two weeks.

The spacing issue for the prosecutor’s office needs to be addressed.

That issue need not be a reason for people not to exercise their constitutional right.

Story by Chris Graham