WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s positive test for COVID-19 Friday morning raised major uncertainty about whether the second presidential debate, a town hall format set for Miami on Oct. 15, would move forward as planned.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises anyone who tests positive for the virus to avoid contact with others for 10 days after symptoms first appeared and until fever symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours.
Trump, who aides say has exhibited “mild symptoms,” announced his positive test in the early morning Friday, Oct. 2, which seemingly gives the president enough time to follow safety protocols before the next debate is scheduled if he quickly recovers.
But the CDC also recommends any individual exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus stay at home for 14 days. Democratic nominee Joe Biden shared the debate stage with Trump for 90 minutes, but the two avoided the customary handshakes beforehand because of coronavirus safety measures.
Representatives of the Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to requests to comment about the future of the debates.
Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, tested negative for COVID-19, the couple’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, announced in a statement Friday. Biden went ahead with a campaign event at Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday afternoon, wearing a mask throughout as he gave his usual campaign pitch about the economy and adding jobs.
Fox News reporter Chris Wallace, who moderated the first presidential debate in Cleveland, said in an interview Friday on his network that the Trump family members who watched the debate in-person did not wear masks as they were instructed.
Wallace said the rules called for everybody except for Trump, Biden and the moderator to wear face masks. He said a safety personnel member from the Cleveland Clinic came up to the family when they were seated and offered them masks in case they didn’t have them “and they were waved away.”
“And people in the hall noticed that they weren’t wearing masks and everybody else in the hall was wearing a mask,” Wallace said. “When the debate ended, Mrs. Trump came over, walked past me, she was not wearing a mask. Mrs. Biden walked past me to her husband and she was wearing a mask. So there was a difference in the way the two families and their camps treated the health safety regulations inside the hall.”
Wallace, 72, said he plans to get tested for COVID-19 and that this wife and four children who were also in attendance likely would as well.
Unlike past presidential debates, which attract crowds of around 900 people, the audience Tuesday was limited to around 70 people who are required to wear masks and were tested for COVID-19 beforehand, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The debate between Vice President Mike Pence and vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris remains set for Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City. Pence and Harris both said Friday they tested negative for the virus.
Chris Nelson, communications director for the University of Utah, host of the vice presidential debate, said the university remains “ready to host a successful and safe vice presidential debate.” He deferred questions about additional health and safety protocols to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The third and final presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.
Photos from Tuesday’s debate show Trump’s children Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Tiffany Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in the audience not wearing masks. They are near Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, who is seen wearing a mask. Perez tested negative for COVID-19.
One of Biden’s granddaughters, Naomi Biden, remarked on Twitter about the lack of masks from the Trump family as the debate began.
“Why is the Trump family allowed to not wear masks in the debate hall while everyone else follows the rules?” she tweeted.
Trump has argued for weeks that the nation had “turned the corner” on COVID-19 and has held several campaign rallies where hundreds of spectators close together without many wearing masks. Trump has occasionally worn masks in public and refrained from wearing masks publicly at all for months.
During Tuesday’s debate, Trump made fun of Biden for wearing face masks too often. Biden wears a mask before speaking at campaign events.
“I think masks are okay. You have to understand, if you look. I mean, I have a mask right here,” Trump said, pulling a mask out of his suit pocket. “I put a mask on when I think I need it. Tonight, as an example, everybody’s had a test and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to, but I wear masks.”
Directed toward Biden, Trump said: “I don’t wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
The presidential debates are already under more scrutiny than at any time in U.S. history following a chaotic first debate in which both candidates routinely interrupted each other – the bulk of those interruptions coming from Trump – and Wallace struggled to maintain control.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced this week changes would be implemented for the next debates including “additional tools to maintain order.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.