Biden, Sanders to Debate Without Live Audience as Coronavirus Fears Grow

March 11, 2020 Updated: March 11, 2020
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The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced on March 10 it is ditching plans to have a live audience for the Arizona debate scheduled Sunday between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“At the request of both campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, there will be no live audience at the Arizona debate taking place on Sunday, March 15,” DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.

“The DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the mayor’s office, which advised that we could proceed as planned,” Hinojosa added. “Nevertheless, our number one priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans and all those involved in the debate.”

The Democratic presidential candidates earlier canceled their election night rallies in Ohio on Tuesday citing concerns about the coronavirus spreading throughout the United States.

CNN, which is hosting Sunday’s debate with the Spanish-language Univision, said the decision to scrap plans to have a live audience at the next Democratic primary debate was made “at the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution.”

The network added that there would also be no press filing center and no “spin room,” following the debate.

“CNN’s top priority is the safety of our employees and community members,” the network said in a statement. “This extends to guests planning to attend or cover our debate on March 15.

As of Monday, at least six cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed in Arizona state. Almost three quarters of U.S. states have confirmed cases of COVID-19. A running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University center tracking the outbreak puts the number of cases at 1,025, with 28 deaths.

Over the weekend, it was revealed that an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in late February tested positive for the virus and is now being quarantined at a New Jersey hospital. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other administration officials attended the event, but the White House later stated they didn’t have contact with the infected individual.

However, several members of Congress announced they would self-quarantine for 14 days after saying they had interacted with the COVID-19 patient. So far, CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and now-acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are in self-isolation, although none of them have so far had any symptoms.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.