Even before the president fell ill, it was arguably folly to hold face-to-face debates. These events typically take place indoors, lasting upward of 90 minutes. The participants, including the moderators, spend the entire time talking at one another, loudly. Moving the podiums farther apart and reducing the number of attendees, as have already been done, or even moving the debates outdoors, as some are suggesting, isn’t enough to address the risk.
Nor were the safety protocols put in place before the first debate, in Cleveland. Most of the attendees were required to undergo pre-debate coronavirus testing by the Cleveland Clinic. The candidates and their entourages, however, were allowed to operate on the honor system.
Then there was the matter of enforcement. Despite both campaigns agreeing to a requirement that everyone inside the hall wear masks, the president’s family and several of his guests removed their face coverings upon taking their seats and refused to re-mask, despite gentle prodding. The president and his aides also declined to wear masks during an afternoon walk-through of the venue.