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VP debate safety questioned after what happened in Cleveland and more

Long-time epidemiologist questions why debate is in-person at all
Should the VP Debate happen with candidates in-person?
Posted at 4:08 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 19:25:45-04

CLEVELAND — The Vice-Presidential Debate will be held tonight. After what happened in Cleveland with the Presidential Debate and President Trump testing positive shortly afterward, tonight’s event will look very different. But, one medical expert wonders if the debate as we know it should happen in the first place.

“It’s worth stepping back to ask the question about whether the debate needs to happen in person at all,” said Dr. Mark Lurie, a long-time epidemiologist from Brown University. He pointed out there are lots of ways to have the debate where Mike Pence and Kamala Harris don’t have to be side-by-side. “And there’s no particular requirement that they need to be in front of a live audience,” said Lurie.

The White House said Pence has tested negative several days in a row. However, he was seen at a recent Rose Garden ceremony at the White House where several people in attendance have now tested positive. Plus, six of the president’s debate preppers have now tested positive, heightening concern that President Trump may have had coronavirus while in Cleveland.

“This debate is being conducted under health and safety protocols designed by the Cleveland Clinic,” said moderator Chris Wallace at the first debate. While in Cleveland though, safety protocols designed by the Cleveland Clinic were not followed. Masks were not worn and were not enforced. That was a big mistake, Lurie said.

“If people refuse to follow that guidance, then your rules are a complete waste of time," he said.

We have seen several statements from Cleveland Clinic since the Presidential Debate last week. The Clinic saying it relied on each campaign staff to test and certify results, and the Clinic thought there was a “low risk of exposure.”

However, Lurie pointed out that tests aren’t 100% accurate, and if you get the virus and test a short time later, you would get a negative result because there’s a window of time before a positive test would show up.

“It’s not perfectly usable as a day-to-day monitoring tool,” Lurie told us.

Just yesterday the Clinic released a statement saying it helped “create safety requirements” but in the same statement, it said its “responsibility is to provide advice” about safety. It also said that “questions about implementation and enforcement (of the safety rules) should be directed to the CPD (Commission on Presidential Debates).”

For tonight’s debate, any potential future debates, and just life in general, Lurie said one thing is important to keep in mind.

“Not think about what is the least that I could do in order to be safe, but to think on the other hand what is the most that I can do to protect myself the most,” he said.

As opposed to what happened in Cleveland, we’re told at tonight’s debate, masks will be required. If people don’t wear them, they will be escorted out. We’ll be watching.

Coverage of the Vice-Presidential Debate starts at 8pm on News 5. Then, the actual debate starts at 9pm.

Here are the various statements from the Cleveland Clinic in recent days:


“Our thoughts are with the President, First Lady and all of our guests. As health advisor to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the host site, we had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines- including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking. Most importantly, everyone permitted inside the debate hall tested negative for COVID-19 prior to entry. Individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns.

Based on what we know about the virus and the safety measures we had in place, we believe there is low risk of exposure to our guests. Out of an abundance of caution we are reaching out to our guests to address any questions and concerns. We will continue to monitor the information being released by the White House.”



“The Cleveland Clinic required everyone entering the debate hall to have a negative COVID-19 test. This was also required by the White House medical team. The campaigns had existing testing protocols, which were reviewed as part of the planning process in which the Cleveland Clinic, the Commission on Presidential Debates and the campaigns participated. After that review, it was agreed that the campaigns’ respective medical teams would be (1) responsible for testing their respective candidates and entourages, and (2) required to certify to the Clinic on the day of the debate that all of those individuals had been tested by their medical teams with a negative test result within the approved time period before the debate. Each campaign complied with this requirement.”



“Cleveland Clinic serves as the Health Security Advisor to The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Our responsibility is to provide advice to the CPD on how to create a safe and healthy environment for all individuals entering the debate halls. The guidelines we recommend are based on scientific data, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical advice.

Prior to the first debate, we worked closely with the CPD to create health and safety requirements. These are the same requirements that we have recommended be implemented at each of the other host sites. They include testing, social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking.

Any questions regarding the recommendations and requirements, including their implementation and enforcement, should be directed to the CPD.”

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