An in-person debate held during a pandemic should be visually unnerving. When she saw the plexiglass panels earlier Wednesday, Linsey Marr, a leading expert on how viral-laden particles travel through the air “laughed outright,” the New York Times reported. She expected the candidates to be sitting in some kind of enclosure—not that this would have been advisable, either. A debate with a candidate who should be in quarantine should never have taken place with both candidates sharing a stage. The presence of a live audience, on top of that, seems inconceivably pointless and risky. As epidemiologist Saskia Popescu told Rolling Stone, even attempting to offer guidance on making such an in-person debate safer would be “like me giving guidance on how to drink and drive safer.”

Watching the thing take place, more or less as planned, was like sitting in the back seat of a car that you know shouldn’t be on the road. The stage itself was a denial of reality. We were left to look for clues—was that blood in Pence’s eye?—to determine to what exact extent everyone in that room was at risk. We are left to wonder who will be infected next in service of taking a risk that did not need to be taken. The debate was part of an extended downplaying of the virus, in the White House, in America, and now by the Commission on Presidential Debates.