Plexiglass barrier to separate US vice-presidential candidates at debate

This week’s vice presidential debate has taken on an outsized and perhaps unprecedented significance, with questions about President Donald Trump’s health now looming over the US election less than a month away.
Workers hanging a banner outside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, ahead of today's vice-presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and his challenger, Democrat Kamala Harris.
Workers hanging a banner outside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, ahead of today's vice-presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and his challenger, Democrat Kamala Harris.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • US Vice-President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, Senator Kamala Harris, will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their debate today 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 to be held in Salt Lake City, six days after President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Both Ms Harris and Mr Pence have tested negative for the virus in recent days, with the Republican Vice-President working from home over the weekend instead of at the White House.

A number of White House staff and prominent Republicans, including three US senators, have tested positive for Covid-19.

The commission on presidential debates said the two would be seated more than 3.7m apart.

Also, 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".

At the first presidential debate between Mr Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week, several members of Mr Trump's family did not wear masks while sitting in the audience.

In a statement, Mr Pence's spokesman, Ms Katie Miller, said: "If Senator Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it."

In response, Ms Sabrina Singh, a spokesman for Ms 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."

Ms 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.

Mr 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.

Mr Biden said on Monday that he was willing to participate in next week's scheduled debate with Mr 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 Mr 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," Mr Biden, who tested negative for Covid-19 over the weekend, told reporters.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline 'Plexiglass barrier to separate V-P candidates at debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe