The first presidential debate featured a number of COVID-19 precautions. Donald Trump and Joe Biden didn’t shake hands. There were fewer than 100 people in the live audience. Masks were required. Look, here are people wearing masks:
Hmm, actually, that video also shows Ivanka Trump sit down with a mask on and then … take it off. In fact, many of the Trump folks—about half, according to a Bloomberg News reporter who was tweeting from inside the debate hall—are seated, and maskless:
Also those chairs—they’re pretty close together. Some of them are right up against each other. Others are spaced … a few feet apart? I wasn’t in Cleveland with a tape measurer, and camera angles are tricky, but it certainly does not look like there is 6 feet of space between Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle. Could an adult man of average height fit between them? And what about the guy behind them? The chair setup looks like the “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you” of COVID precautions.
But perhaps they were sitting a full 6 feet away from each other, and this is all a trick of the camera. Sitting indoors for an extended period of time without a mask happens to be a great way to spread a virus that travels from one person to another through invisible breath droplets. This is why some experts recommend that you stay even further away from other people, if possible, when indoors. If the virus is cigarette smoke, as the metaphor goes … would you want to be seated maybe 6 feet away from a maskless Trump child? It’s true that everyone who entered the arena was supposed to be tested ahead of time, and hey—maybe the Trumps and all their friends are in one carefully managed quarantine bubble. That isn’t an excuse to shed the most obvious measure of protection while setting an example on national television.
The debates took place in a 27,000-square-foot atrium (spacious!) that, according to the Associated Press, was previously on standby as a makeshift hospital, with hundreds of beds at the ready for potential COVID-19 patients. The would-be hospital wasn’t needed because of “aggressive public health measures.” I’m sorry to say, at least on Trump’s half of the crowd, the lesson clearly wasn’t learned.
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus