Out of concern for the health of voters planning to attend the next presidential debate on Oct. 15 as well as his own and that of his campaign staff, Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday evening said the event should not go forward as planned as long as President Donald Trump still has Covid-19.
"I think if he still has Covid, we shouldn't have a debate," Biden told reporters the day after Trump returned home to the White House after spending three nights at Walter Reed Medical Center.
The president announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus in the early morning hours of last Friday, two days after facing Biden in the first debate in Cleveland, Ohio. At the first debate, the president openly mocked the former vice president for following public health guidance by wearing a face mask at public events, and members of his family and campaign team in the audience did not use face coverings.
"I'm not sure what President Trump is all about now, I don't know what his status is," Biden said Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to being able to debate him. But I just hope all the protocols are followed, what's necessary at the time."
The vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is set to go forward in Utah Wednesday evening. Both candidates tested negative for Covid-19 on Wednesday.
The safety protocols for the event appeared to consist mainly of two small plexiglass shields positioned between Harris and Pence, who will be seated 12 feet away from each other.
And here’s a preview of what those plexiglass barriers look like inside the debate hall. VP Pence will be seated stage left, with Sen. Harris seated stage right pic.twitter.com/YxrH1nrpAW
— Amanda Golden (@amandawgolden) October 7, 2020
Professor Linsey Marr, an expert in aerosol transmission of viruses, called the safety measures "absurd."
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"These are even smaller and less adequate than I imagined," Marr told the New York Times.
After Trump's diagnosis last week, Biden campaign officials indicated it was "hard to see" the second debate going forward and that the Commission on Presidential Debates must enforce protocols including mask-wearing.
Biden's deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, pointed out Wednesday that members of the public could be put at risk in the town hall format planned for the second debate, if Trump is still contagious.
"There will be citizens there in attendance asking questions," Bedingfield told "Good Morning America" on ABC. "So, the obligation is on Donald Trump to prove that he is not contagious. The obligation is on him to meet the standards laid out by the Cleveland Clinic, laid out by the presidential commission on debates."
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted that Biden and Trump should simply take part in a virtual debate as former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon did in 1960.
Amid this pandemic, it is too dangerous for Joe Biden and Donald Trump to debate in the same studio. Do the next debate virtually, just as JFK (New York) and Richard Nixon (los Angeles) did with their third debate in 1960: pic.twitter.com/5Is9nwgSab
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) October 7, 2020
White House staffers on Wednesday stocked an "isolation cart" with medical gowns, goggles, and respirators and positioned the supplies outside the Oval Office as the president returned after a short-lived quarantine period in his residence following his hospital stay. Despite the possibility of still being contagious, advisers are reportedly considering a return to Trump's campaigning schedule next week, including travel other than his planned trip to Miami for the debate.
"I think we're gonna have to follow very strict guidelines," Biden told reporters Tuesday. "Too many people have been infected. And it's a very serious problem."