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Several Local Democrats Sickened With Virus, Election Gatherings Could Be Source

San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy speaks at a...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy speaks at an Election Night party, March 3, 2020.

On Election Day, San Diego County was still a week away from officially reporting community spread of the coronavirus. But it now appears that the days before and after the March 3 primary were the beginning of an outbreak that's sickened several people in the local Democratic Party.

Four people, including San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, have tested positive for the virus. Two of them, Rodriguez-Kennedy and Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla, are in intensive care at local hospitals, according to statements from Rodriguez-Kennedy and Padilla's daughter.

The others, San Diego City Council District 9 candidate Kelvin Barrios and campaign staffer Jehoan Espinoza, are recovering at home.

Other people active in the party are also showing symptoms of COVID 19 and self-quarantining, said party spokeswoman Eva Posner. She added that she didn’t, as of now, know of any more positive.

The four who did test positive spent time together on Election Night and at events before and after the election, Posner said. And all four were also spending lots of time out in the community.

Photo by Andi Dukleth

People gather at an Election Night party hosted by the San Diego County Democrats, March 3, 2020.

"There was obviously a big party on Election Night, but there have also been several meetings and events, both formal and informal, between Election Night and when social distancing really kicked in," Posner said.

"We all naturally spent a lot of time together, but we also spent a lot of time out in the community, especially our candidates and elected officials. So it could have come from anywhere and it could have spread in several different ways."

In other parts of the country, health officials have been looking for "super spreading events," including a party for 50 people in Westport, Conn., that left half the guests sick with the virus. The number of cases from San Diego election-related events have not approached that level, or even the CDC definition of a "cluster" of cases.

Nonetheless, Posner said party members are keeping in touch to figure out if others may have been impacted.

"Our natural network of elected officials, advocates, staff, volunteers, central committee members are in constant contact with each other, and because we've all recently spent so much time together, whenever someone has symptoms, they alert their network out of a sense of responsibility to each other," she said.

Right now, with the election year in a dormant period before the campaigns gear up for the November general election, Posner said personal concerns are rising above politics.

"We're all really worried for our colleagues and our friends who are ill, and we're really hoping that everybody gets better and gets back to work quickly," she said.

If COVID-19 cases continue through the summer, into the fall, the party and the campaigns will have to change the way they operate, with remote campaigning instead of face-to-face meetings and big events, she said.

"Our elections and our democracy can and must prevail through this," she said. "Even though things have changed and will continue to change and we will need to be flexible as a result."

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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