US vice presidential debate to include plexiglass barrier after COVID-19 outbreak in White House

US vice presidential debate to include plexiglass barrier after COVID-19 outbreak in White House

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence
Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (left) and US Vice President Mike Pence (right). (Photos: Reuters)

WILMINGTON, Delaware: Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their debate on Wednesday (Oct 7), a source familiar with the matter said, in an effort to lower the risk of coronavirus transmission.

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 US senator, and Republican Pence 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 Republican allies, including three US senators, have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

READ: US President Trump leaves hospital to return to a White House hard hit by COVID-19

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees the debate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

READ: One in 10 may have caught COVID-19, as world heads into 'difficult period': WHO

Also on Monday, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the president intends to participate in the next presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, scheduled for Oct 15 in Miami.

Trump left a military hospital 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.

READ: US CDC revises guidance, says COVID-19 can spread through virus lingering in air

The normal quarantine period for anyone testing positive for COVID-19 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 criticised Trump for not taking the health concerns seriously enough. 

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Source: Reuters/ec/mi