(Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their debate on Wednesday in an effort to lower the risk of coronavirus transmission, the commission overseeing the event said.
The debate, the only one scheduled between the vice presidential candidates, is scheduled for Salt Lake City, six days after President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.
Both Harris, a Democratic U.S. senator, and Pence, a Republican, have tested negative in recent days, with the vice president working from home over the weekend instead of at the White House. A number of White House staffers and prominent Republicans, including three U.S. senators, have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The Commission on Presidential Debates also said the two candidates would be seated more than 12 feet (3.7 m) apart. There will be a limited number of guests at the debate, all of whom will undergo testing, and anyone who does not wear a mask will be “escorted out,” the commission said.
At the first presidential debate between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week, several members of Trump’s family did not wear masks while sitting in the audience.
In a statement, Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, said: “If Senator Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it.”
In response, Sabrina Singh, a spokeswoman for Harris, wrote on Twitter: “Interesting that @VPComDir Katie Miller mocks our wanting a plexiglass barrier on the debate stage, when her own boss is supposedly in charge of the COVID-19 task force and should be advocating for this too.”
Miller herself had COVID-19 in the spring.
Also on Monday, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the president intends to participate in the next presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.
Trump left a military hospital here on Monday after three days of treatment, although mixed messages from the White House have prompted uncertainty about how ill he became.
Biden said on Monday he was willing to participate in next week’s scheduled debate with Trump as long as health experts say it would be safe.
The diagnosis has raised questions about the safety of staging the debates for the Nov. 3 election. The first of three scheduled debates took place last week, two days before Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.
“If the scientists say that it’s safe and the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine. I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do,” Biden, who tested negative for COVID-19 over the weekend, told reporters in Delaware before heading to Florida on a campaign trip.
The normal quarantine period for anyone testing positive for the novel coronavirus is 14 days.
Trump has frequently played down the threat of the pandemic that has now infected 7.4 million Americans and killed more than 209,000. Biden has criticized Trump for not taking the health concerns seriously enough.
Reporting by Joseph Ax and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Michael Martina; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney