Candidates bow to coronavirus fears after shrugging them off for weeks


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have determined that Americans over 60 years old are at a heightened risk for the coronavirus and should avoid nonessential travel and large gatherings.

The three major candidates left in the 2020 presidential race, all in their 70s, had not been heeding those warnings — until Tuesday afternoon, when the Sanders and Biden campaigns both canceled rallies planned for that evening in Cleveland.

"Out of concern for public health and safety, we are canceling tonight's rally in Cleveland," communications director Mike Casca said in a statement. "We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak. Sen. Sanders would like to express his regret to the thousands of Ohioans who had planned to attend the event tonight."

Biden’s Communications Director Kate Bedingfield issued a statement a few minutes later: “In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is cancelled. We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events in the coming days. Vice President Biden thanks all of his supporters who wanted to be with us in Cleveland this evening. Additional details on where the Vice President will address the press tonight are forthcoming.”

President Trump’s campaign has not announced any scaling back of public appearances, although he has no rallies listed on his schedule. At the daily coronavirus press briefing Tuesday, Vice President Pence said scheduling or cancelling future rallies was "a decision that literally will be made on a day to day basis.”

In an interview with “Fox & Friends” Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president is not concerned he might contract the coronavirus and has no plans to stop holding reelection rallies.

“I’ll tell you what, with our president, this man who doesn’t sleep and who I have seen work 15, 16 hours a day every day, I have no problem thinking that he is going to be just fine and just healthy,” Grisham said.

President Trump, Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail this week. (Alex Brandon/AP, Charlie Riedel/AP, Paul Sancya/AP)
President Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail this week. (Alex Brandon/AP, Charlie Riedel/AP, Paul Sancya/AP)

“The president of the United States, as we all know, is quite a hand washer,” she added. “He uses hand sanitizer all the time. So he’s not concerned about this at all.”

Trump, who has not been tested for the coronavirus, has repeatedly tried to downplay the risks to the American public, falsely suggesting it is less serious than the seasonal flu.

And he has made it a point to continue the practice of shaking hands with his supporters at rallies and airports, despite the recommendations from health officials to avoid unnecessary physical contact.

The president worked the rope line on the tarmac after arriving in Orlando on Monday.

Appearing on “NBC Nightly News,” Biden said his campaign is “looking to the CDC for advice” about whether to continue holding rallies.

“I think that we’re going to follow the recommendations of the experts,” Biden said. “And if they conclude that there shouldn’t be big indoor rallies, then we’ll stop big indoor rallies. We’re going to do whatever they say.”

On Monday evening in Detroit, Biden was joined onstage by Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker at a rally at a high school. (Attendees were, however, given hand sanitizer as they entered.)

Sanders was also in Detroit, where he led a roundtable on the coronavirus outbreak with public health experts.

The Vermont senator, who had a heart attack in October, has been maintaining a stacked campaign schedule as he tries to catch up to Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination.

“I think every American has got to think about it,” Sanders said on CNN Monday night when asked about his concerns regarding the virus. “Before we do rallies, we consult with public health officials to make sure that it’s OK. We’ve never done a rally without the approval of local public health officials.”

He added: “The bottom line here is, for me, for you, for Trump, for everybody in this country, what we need is leadership based on science.”


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