When candidates President Donald Trump and Joe Biden take to the stage Tuesday, it may appear similar to past debates to viewers. But behind the scenes, this year will be very different.
“We’re obviously in close collaboration with the site deploying a variety of health and safety protocols,” said Peter Eyre, senior advisor for the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Eyre said the audience will be smaller than for past debates and limited to about 50 to 75 people. Audience seats will be spaced out to allow for social distancing.
While people entering the debate site inside Samson Pavilion on the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus will face different protocols based on their roles, Eyre said everyone will undergo screenings for COVID-19.
Masks will be mandatory and the hall is also undergoing frequent sanitization.
“There are things we’re doing differently this year that we haven’t done before because of COVID-19. That includes a variety of testing, social distancing, mask wearing and obviously reducing the total number of people who will be involved,” Eyre said.
Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic stepped in to cohost the debate after the University of Notre Dame backed out because of the challenges of hosting on campus during COVID-19.
“This debate is taking place outside of our main campus, and that puts it a little more distant from our mainline student population, which gave us another bit of relief as we were ramping up for our COVID preparations,” said Case Western Reserve University Provost and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson.
The Cleveland Clinic was already serving as the health security adviser for all four general election debates, and the commission said plans developed for the first debate will guide the others.
“Every organization is looking for things they need to be doing to keep their operations safe, and that’s the guidance we’ve been providing,” said Cleveland Clinic Chief Clinical Transformation Officer Dr. James Merlino.
Candidates and moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, will not shake hands at the start of the debate. They will also not be wearing masks.
Eyre said final changes ahead of the debate remained underway. The pandemic is also set as a debate topic.