Vice-presidential debate to go ahead under new safety measures – and Plexiglass shields

US Vice Presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Mike Pence squared up to one another for the first time on Wednesday night. Photo: EPA-EFE/CJ GUNTHER)

With over 7,5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths approaching 220,000, the US is looking to the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday 7 October. While coronavirus numbers were on the decline in the US a month ago, the spike over the last two weeks, coupled with the president testing positive, has all eyes focused on the ‘land of the free’.

Following President Donald Trump’s positive Covid-19 diagnosis, his brief hospitalisation and subsequent return to the White House on Monday 5 October, various steps are being taken to ensure the virus is not spread at Wednesday night’s debate.

After announcing late on Monday that the VP debate would have plexiglass dividers between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, the US Presidential Debate Commission spent Tuesday finalising adjustments for the coming debates. Besides the VP debate, there is the second presidential debate, slated for October 15 in Miami, Florida, and a third and final presidential debate on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

The commission also spent time ironing out details with both campaigns for the new measures to be put in place to ensure the virus is not spread at the vice-presidential debate at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City. Following the announcement that plexiglass would now be used to shield debaters, vice-president Mike Pence’s team said Pence would not be surrounded by Plexiglass. 

The shields are a source of some contention between Democratic and Republican camps. With Kamala Harris and Joe Biden requesting the protective measure and wanting stricter safety measures, Mike Pence’s team has specifically said the barrier was not needed. The debate commission responded, saying that Pence does not have to be “surrounded” by Plexiglass, but Harris, at her request, will be.

Workers install plexiglass panels between the candidates’ desks for the 2020 vice-presidential debate between US Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 06 Oct 2020. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

The Biden team has, since the announcement last week of Trump testing positive for Covid-19, been pushing for stricter safety measures, including masks and increased distance between debaters.

Vice-presidential debates are not generally viewed as having the same level of importance as presidential debates, but following the fiasco of last week’s showdown between Trump and Biden, Wednesday’s debate is keenly anticipated. 

Pence himself was exposed to the virus, having attended the same events as Trump and the First Lady prior to their positive diagnoses. He was also present at the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court on 26 September, and was in the room with Trump for post-debate celebrations on 29 September.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to say he was looking forward to being part of the second presidential debate in Florida next week. 


This is despite the president not yet being medically cleared of the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC at says: 

“Available data indicate that persons with mild to moderate Covid-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. Persons with more severe to critical illness, or severe immunocompromise, likely remain infectious no longer than 20 days after symptom onset.”

Considering that Trump’s oxygen levels dropped and he was being treated with remdesivir – he was scheduled to receive the last of five doses on Tuesday at the White House and was also administered dexamethasone as well as at least two other experimental treatments – it may be safe to say that he could well fall into the CDC’s “persons with more severe… illness” category.

World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines announced on 2 September, pertaining to corticosteroids (such as dexamethasone), are clear:

  1. We recommend systemic corticosteroids rather than no corticosteroids for the treatment of patients with severe and critical Covid-19.
  2. We suggest not to use corticosteroids in the treatment of patients with non-severe Covid-19.

The VP debate will be live on various news channels and streamed on the internet. If you are in South Africa, watch it live on Thursday 8 September at 03:00. DM

  • After strenuously arguing against a shield, Mike Pence has since time of writing changed his decision and has agreed to the Plexiglass shield.

An Wentzel is night editor, specialist reporter for Daily Maverick: she went to the USA to visit family as the pandemic struck and is currently marooned in the land of the ‘free’.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 2

  • This is a debate I would have liked to watch live, as I regard Harris as a future US president. But 3 am? Stayed up to watch the Trump/Biden debate, via a South African channel on You Tube called Morning Shot. Is was painful. Apart from the debate, which was awful, the host of the channel, Roman, a Trump supporter, interrupted all the time. Roman’s followers (South African’s) are also all Trump supporters, and their comments (un-monitored) are nothing short of disgusting. Hopefully Harris will have the ability to drive a major hole into the heart of the Trump administration.

    • It should be worth the watch, lots of overseas websites does a good job of streaming it live without being partisan. Pretty sure Harris will eat Pence for breakfast.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted