The Commission on Presidential Debates has approved plans for plexiglass to be used to separate Vice President Mike Pence, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and the moderator during Wednesday’s vice presidential debate.
The Pence and Harris teams have been negotiating the terms of the debate in recent days after President Donald Trump tested positive for coronavirus.
The two camps were split over whether to erect a plexiglass barrier, with the Harris’ campaign pushing for it.
Pence opposed it but released a statement poking fun at Harris.
“If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller said.
Top Pence advisers said late Monday night that they did not support plexiglass barriers being used in the debate, The Washington Post reported.
Commission Co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said the Trump team did not object to the decision but “they didn’t want the vice president surrounded by plexiglass.”
“They don’t want to have him in what looks like a box,” Fahrenkopf said.
Pence team objects to plexiglass being installed for both VP and Sen. Harris at upcoming debate, we’ve confirmed. Pence officials don’t have a problem if Harris would like plexiglass to protect her at debate. But Pence team believes it’s not necessary for VP to have that too.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 6, 2020
Plexiglass panels installed on the debate stage in Salt Lake City pic.twitter.com/AMNxBH1R8E
— Chris Jansing (@ChrisJansing) October 6, 2020
Here’s more from Politico on how the plexiglass apparently became a big deal in negotiations between Harris and Pence’s team:
Pence aides argued that the plexiglass was medically unnecessary and said it would do little to prevent coronavirus transmission, according to people familiar with the back and forth. The Pence team ultimately said that if the barriers made Harris feel safer, they would use them. The New York Times first reported the Pence campaign’s decision.
The negotiations come amid mounting concerns about infection. While Pence has tested negative for the virus, President Donald Trump and several of his top aides have tested positive. Democrats have expressed worries that Trump was contagious at last week’s debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, though Biden has since tested negative.
Debate organizers are also planning to strictly enforce health regulations at the debate. Before entering the debate hall at the University of Utah, attendees must test negative and wear a mask. If they take the mask off, they will be asked to put it back on. If they don’t comply, they will be asked to leave, people familiar with the planning said.
Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, told Politico that it wasn’t entirely clear how effective plexiglass barriers are at preventing the transmission of Covid-19.
The dividers are not “a substitute for any of the efforts we know work,” she said.
“Ultimately, this debate should be virtual as Vice President Pence should be quarantining,” Popescu said. “If that’s not an option, every and all safety measures should be taken, which should include masks, distancing, avoiding any additional people in the space who don’t need to be, trying to do it outdoors, cleaning.”
“Plexiglass dividers,” she added, “can be helpful against larger droplets, but there are concerns for efficacy against smaller aerosols, which should reinforce the use of masks as source control.”
The debate commission has also decided to move the two candidates’ seats from seven feet to 13 feet apart.
Pence and Harris will also be sitting down for the debate, which is scheduled for Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET.