VP Debate Will Have Plexiglass Between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, Which His Team Mocks

When Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris meet in Salt Lake City on Wednesday for their first and only debate, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will literally be present on stage between them.

The Commission on Presidential Debates says plexiglass will be used to limit any airborne viral spread between the Democratic vice presidential nominee, 55, and Pence, 61. The two candidates will also not shake hands or physically touch.

“There will be a plexiglass divider between the two candidates and the candidates and the moderator,” said commission co-chair Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., according to The Los Angeles Times. “The Trump campaign agreed to that so long as we don’t surround Vice President Pence all the way around.”

A spokeswoman for Pence, the head of the federal government's coronavirus task force, reacted derisively to the preventative measures as the Trump campaign moves to reframe their much-scrutinized handling of the pandemic as the Nov. 3 election approaches.

“If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” Katie Miller, a spokesperson for the Republican vice president said to Politico.

Harris’ spokeswoman soon shot back.

“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,” tweeted Sabrina Singh.

More than 7.4 million people in the U.S. have contracted the novel coronavirus in recent months, including President Donald Trump himself, leading to his hospitalization. More than 200,000 people in the country have died.

Trump, returning to the White House from the hospital on Monday night, urged others not to be "afraid" of the virus or let it "dominate." He later downplayed it — again — compared to the seasonal flu, which kills far fewer people.

While he has boasted of his work with the ventilator supply and his initial decisions to limit travel to the U.S., Trump has also been criticized for resisting his health experts' own guidance on slowing the virus, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

As president, Trump also received leading medical care and experimental treatments not available to the average patient.

Harris and Pence will now stand about 12 feet apart Wednesday night, while they’ll also be 12 feet from moderator Susan Page, of USA Today.

A small audience will be allowed at the University of Utah debate hall, though all attendees will be required to wear a mask and everyone at the debate, including Harris and Pence, will be tested for the virus.

If anyone is not wearing a mask, the commission says it will escort individuals out of the building (an apparent reference to some attendees at last week's debate who took off their masks, including those in Trump's family).

Both campaigns agreed to the debate rules and safety measures, though the commission’s co-chairman said the Trump campaign winced at the idea of the vice president being surrounded by plexiglass, according to The Washington Post.

Fahrenkopf said: “They don’t want to have him in what looks like a box.”

The vice-presidential debate's latest protective measures were first reported Monday, less than a week after Trump met with Democratic nominee Joe Biden on stage in Cleveland, for their first debate.

Less than three days later, Trump announced he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory illness.

The president's diagnosis forced Biden and debate moderator Chris Wallace to undergo testing to see whether Trump had infected them, while the 74-year-old was admitted to the hospital on Friday night.

Both Biden, 77, and Wallace, 72, later tested negative — but multiple members of the president's campaign staff and his White House aides were infected, as were others in Trump's orbit such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The source of their illness remains unclear, though the president held multiple, largely mask-less events in recent days.

Because false negatives are possible if someone is tested too early in their infection, some have said Wednesday's debate should be conducted entirely remotely to avoid further spread.

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