How Trump's COVID-19 Diagnosis Will Affect the Vice Presidential Debate

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will be seated 12 feet apart

In the wake of President Donald Trump's positive coronavirus diagnosis, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced a handful of changes for this week's vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris.

The commission agreed to seat Pence and Harris 12 feet apart — rather than the previously-agreed-to seven feet — at the Wednesday debate, stemming from a request made by the Biden campaign.

While social-distancing guidelines call for at least six feet of separation between individuals in order to avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus, some medical professionals say six feet isn't sufficient for those spending longer periods of time together indoors.

Masks will also be required by those attending the debates — though it's worth noting that similar rules were flouted by members of the Trump family and campaign at last Tuesday's debate.

While interviewing Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace, who moderated the first presidential debate last Tuesday, noted that attendees who don't wear masks at future debates will henceforth be "escorted from the hall."

The 90-minute vice presidential debate will take place at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Kamala Harris, Mike Pence
From left: Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. Ethan Miller/Getty; Joe Raedle/Getty
first presidential debate
President Donald Trump (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden at Tuesday's debate. JIM WATSON/Getty Images

As Politico has noted, the commission has so far not agreed to the Biden campaign's request that Harris and Pence stand during the debate, announcing that the two will be seated for the entirety of the event.

Politico further reported that debate organizers were looking at installing plexiglass between Harris, Pence and the moderator, USA Today's Susan Page.

On Sunday, Utah's KUTV reported that COVID-19 testing was underway at the University of Utah in the days leading up to the debate. The university requires anyone entering the secured perimeter to the debate area test negative for the virus, with test results good for the 72 hours leading up to the debate.

It's important to note, however, that even those who have the virus can see negative test results for days before they get a positive diagnosis.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that she tested positive for the coronavirus that morning, despite receiving negative results in the days prior to those results.

Kamala Harris
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty
Vice President Mike Pence
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

In a video released to the press, senior adviser for the commission Peter Eyre explained the commission's health and safety protocols for the upcoming vice presidential debate but didn't get into specifics regarding Wednesday's event.

"The health protocols continue to evolve and are specifically tailored to each of the specific considerations and circumstances at the four sites where debates will be held," Eyre said, referencing that both the vice presidential debate and the three presidential debates were scheduled throughout the months of September and October.

The Cleveland Clinic is serving as a health security adviser for the commission. In a statement released on Sunday, the clinic said it had required everyone entering the debate hall at last Tuesday's presidential debate to have a negative COVID-19 test. Those results, for the candidates at least, were largely based on an honor system.

Just days after appearing at the presidential debate, Trump announced his and First Lady Melania Trump's COVID-19 diagnoses.

The future of the remaining two presidential debates between Biden and Trump — slated for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 — is uncertain.

When speaking to reporters on Monday, Biden said the candidates need to "Listen to the science. If scientists say that it’s safe … then I think that’s fine." When asked if the candidates should stand behind panels of plexiglass, Biden responded, "I’m not an expert on it but I think we should be very cautious."

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