Help me decide whether to go to Ohio
October 13, 2020 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Pretty straightforward question, I guess: should I travel to Ohio for an optional election-related trip? Please help me figure it out.

Every Presidential election year since 2008, and at the 2018 midterms, I've traveled to Ohio to work for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections; for reasons I've never been quite clear on, the BOE there hires out-of-state lawyers to do voter assistance in the form of assisting at the polling places and also at the Board of Elections itself, manning the phones to assist poll workers. It's very rewarding work (although for obvious reasons, it was extremely upsetting and depressing the night of Election Day 2016). One year I was in Zanesville (which I think isn't actually in Cuyahoga County, now that I think of it); the other three times I've been in Cleveland.

The guy who runs this program out of NYC is doing it again this year, and I have a chance to go. For obvious reasons, I'm apprehensive about it. First, there's traveling by plane to Cleveland. (I don't own a car, and wouldn't be thrilled about driving eight or so hours to Cleveland alone anyway even if I did.) I'm also familiar with the Board of Elections, as I've been there a bunch of times; the ceilings are a bit low, and I don't know about how the ventilation is there. You also need to use the elevator to get to the phone bank. I'm a bit less worried about the hotel, but there's that too.

The people doing this are all left-leaning, mostly from New York City and mostly middle-aged and older, so I'm not worried that they wouldn't be wearing masks or that they would be cavalier about their health or mine. The guy running it says that the polling places themselves are following protocols pretty tightly, and he says Cleveland is a "masks on" jurisdiction.

I really want to go, especially this year; Ohio isn't absolutely crucial for Biden but it is for the other guy, so I think it's important that things go smoothly there. But I'm really nervous about it, and I'm not sure I should do it this year. I'm in very good health, kenahora, but I'm middle-aged (over 50) and BMI is just a wee bit over what's supposed to be in the danger zone. I have no other risks -- no asthma, diabetes, etc.

So... what would you do? And do any MeFites who live in Cleveland have any information on how compliant people in the city have been, or how well the pandemic is controlled there?

Thanks, everyone.
posted by holborne to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
I flew to Columbus and back a month ago. I was surprised how well everyone was complying with the mask requirements. I saw very few unmasked people during my time there.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:15 PM on October 13, 2020

I have a friend upstate who is stressing today because their kids' other parent is in Ohio, their custodial week is coming up, and NY is threatening to reinstate travel restrictions because of Ohio's numbers - this has happened before, and they had to fully quarantine at home 14 days, though I'm not sure if there was a testing requirement that time. That doesn't seem encouraging about Ohio's numbers.

You should make sure you can comply with whatever New York's testing/quarantine restrictions will be if that happens before your return, and whether that will be a personal or financial hardship.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:20 PM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

My mom works for the city of Cleveland and lives in an apartment in a high rise downtown. She walks all over on daily basis and complains to me on the regular that people are not wearing masks, especially young people who also live downtown (most of her neighbors are in their 20s and 30s).

Also, she has had multiple exposures in her city office building (even though they haven't been allowing taxpayers to come into the office for in-person services for a while). I would not risk it, if I were you, based on what I know about her office setting and based on Cuyahoga County having increasing case numbers recently. She has also told me people she works with have gotten in trouble at work for not wearing masks during the whole work day per policy, or reusing the same disposable mask until it starts to visibly yellow (gross!)

The ventilation systems in her apartment building and her office are not great, which is part of the concern. She often has her window open at home but as it gets colder at night she's going to have to stop doing that. I don't imagine the Board of Elections are opening their windows in October either.
posted by zdravo at 12:57 PM on October 13, 2020

If you do decide to go, I would call the airline and ask what provisions they have for social distancing on the plane. I think many have backed off from the earlier to promise to keep the middle seat empty which would make a difference in my risk evaluation for flying.
posted by metahawk at 1:04 PM on October 13, 2020

I just voted at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and it seemed relatively well-ventilated and very well-run, lots of room between people, etc. The pandemic is relatively (!) well-controlled here; our schools (here in Shaker Heights) have been cautious but are going back in person in a couple weeks.

I am on the east side of town and it seems like there’s a ton of mask compliance indoors; I think it may be worse out in the western suburbs. I don’t really know about downtown outdoors.

The website is pretty helpful for seeing county breakdowns if you drill down. So hopefully that will help you get peace of mind if appropriate?

Anyway 110% thank you, from a County resident.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:09 PM on October 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also last I checked, Cuyahoga was doing better than a lot of counties, but of course who knows how long that will remain true.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:18 PM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

As for Air travel, only Southwest and Delta have the middle seat blocked of the big airlines. They are the only people I am flying with right now. I think Alaska and a couple of smaller ones are too. But that is my BARE minimum of requirement for air travel. They are also super strict on masks (particularly Southwest).

Airports in general are pretty good. I don't think I'd be concerned about risking the travel, to be honest, so the location of the work is all I'd be concerned about.
posted by Brockles at 1:30 PM on October 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

In case it is helpful, here's the county-by-county alert system in Ohio.

Cuyahoga is in Orange, which is where most of the state is. That's the 2nd lowest of 4 levels; however no county has ever hit the highest level, which is purple.

Since you mentioned prior locations other than the Cleveland BoE, I wanted to mention Zanesville is pretty far actually. It's in Muskingum County, which is in red territory (both coronavirus alert-wise, and politically). IME, the further away from the center of a city you go, the less mask compliance you get. Plus, not all suburbs have the same restrictions as cities, and Ohio does not have a statewide mandate. (Which also mean those places that do have mandates differ widely. )

(I'm in Columbus.)
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:40 PM on October 13, 2020

The folks I know in Ohio who are worried in general about the coronavirus all say they see most people not wearing masks unless there is actual enforcement taking place.
posted by wnissen at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2020

Clevelander here.

First, thanks for doing this.

Cleveland Dept. of Health COVID website. Clearly cases are on the rise, although they are slightly lower in the downtown area and where the BoE is. (Although I'm assuming the "cases per zip code" map is based on residence, not folks who visit for work.)

Yes, we are a "mask on" area, which in practice seems to mean "inside." Pretty much all businesses have big "You must wear a mask" signs on their entrances, and I have mostly seen what I would call a high rate of compliance there. Also on public transportation. (Although some people don't seem to grasp that they also breathe through their noses . . .) I spend most of my time in the northwestern neighborhoods (Edgewater and Detroit Shoreway), some in University Circle on the East side, and a little time downtown.

Outside is a bit of a different matter - lots of folks walking around with masks pulled down to their chins or hanging off one ear, and whether they substitute social distancing for masking outside is pretty variable. On the west side folks tend to drift further apart when walking or mask up outside if it's impractical to physically distance, downtown not so much.

I suspect a lot of non-compliance and rise of cases is associated with bars, parties, and restaurants (which would explain zdravo's mom's take on things.)

Personally, as an over-50 & highish BMI but otherwise good health (except for the fact that I smoke like a chimney) person, I would be OK with this. I would definitely check on the airline accommodations and consider any quarantine considerations for when you return home.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of folks here are saying that they know folks in Ohio who aren't wearing masks outside. I am in a very mask-compliant community, but that's about wearing masks inside. I think there are lots of folks who aren't yet in the habit of wearing a mask at all times outside. If that's what you're expecting, that's a very high standard.

I think I'd talk to the organizer and find out how their numbers are this year. Do they have a lot more people signing up than usual? A lot fewer? If they have plenty of volunteers, I would ... probably decline. Being inside all day with so many people, many of whom might be stressed, does not sound like a great situation. And the flight sounds stressful too.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:02 PM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I live in the Akron area, and I would recommend NOT coming.

Cases are definitely on the rise here, and I really don’t see that changing. Our governor (DeWine) seems very unwilling to take any additional steps to change that trend. IMHO, he has done a terrible job since May - and most of his “good work” before that was not all of his own doing.

People here are really getting tired of the restrictions. I have seen far too many people’s posts on social media of them going to weddings, sporting events, etc. Mask usage is good (although use outside could be much better); behavior outside of that is not.
posted by DRoll at 8:18 AM on October 14, 2020

We also broke 2,000 reported cases today for the first time - breaking the previous record (from Friday) by 199.
posted by DRoll at 11:38 AM on October 14, 2020

Cuyahoga BOE part-timer here, I'll be answering phones on election day too. At the boe itself, everyone will have their temperatures checked and masks are required in the building. However at the polls itself, workers can't kick out anyone for not wearing a mask, presumably to avoid lawsuits. If you're at the boe itself you should be fine though.

I was down in Ashland County recently and no one was wearing masks, even inside the store. People in cities are more conscious about masks for sure.
posted by greatalleycat at 12:09 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'll nth not coming. I'm in the Cleveland burbs and people are being idiots here. DeWine is sucking harder than usual like DRoll said.

Thank you for wanting to help out here.
posted by kathrynm at 4:35 PM on October 14, 2020

If this is a sock pupper for Joe Biden - yes, go. Otherwise, no - people will understand this year.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:46 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Aaaand, we’re back up to Level 3. So there’s that.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone — I decided to pass on doing it this year. I’m pretty bummed, but I’m trying to GOTV and do my part that way.
posted by holborne at 10:29 AM on October 17, 2020

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