The bubble format has been quite successful for the National Basketball Association’s nearly completed pandemic season, and now, a more literal rendition of that COVID-reduction strategy will be coming to the vice-presidential debate stage. On Monday, hours before the coronavirus-positive president checked himself out of Walter Reed medical center, the Commission on Presidential Debates approved plans for plexiglass to be used at the contest on Wednesday between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
The commission announced that there will be plexiglass between the vice-president and the California senator as well as a see-through barrier separating moderator Susan Page from the two candidates. (A similar setup was put in place for the debate between Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison on Saturday night without cutting into the quality of the programming.) According to NBC, the Biden-Harris campaign requested the shield be put in place after several attendees at the previous debate, including the president, tested positive for COVID-19 in the wake of the apparent super-spreader event held at the White House on September 26 to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Naturally, the administration, which has downplayed a pandemic that has killed 209,000 Americans — and behaved miserably in the run-up to and fallout over its own outbreak — did not support such a safety measure. “If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” said Katie Miller, a spokesperson for Pence, who is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. But considering the likelihood that someone with the coronavirus from Trump’s camp attended the first presidential debate, the Biden campaign should continue to demand stringent debate guidelines for its VP and presidential picks as Trump prepares for his next round with Biden on October 15. And as Daily Beast reporter Sam Stein notes, the Centers for Disease Control’s own guidelines recommend “physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards” for indoor workplaces.
The Pence-Harris debate, with its pope-(im)mobile setup, may act as a dry run for the next presidential contest if both parties agree to the rematch. (Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh has already said the president “intends to be ready to debate” next week.) But it’s also possible that the two will appear in the even more pandemic-friendly setting of a virtual debate, as the commission is reportedly considering. Either way, Trump campaign staffers will be wearing masks throughout the VP debate: On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates also announced that it will enforce mask-wearing at the venue in Utah. “If anyone does not wear a mask, they will be escorted out,” the commission stated.