Presidential campaigns grapple with handling of coronavirus

Tuesday, the Sanders campaign became the first to cancel rallies due to coronavirus. It happened just days after both former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held events in Michigan in last-ditch attempts to drum up support ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The Biden campaign also followed suit, cancelling it’s Tuesday evening rally in Cleveland.

As the two Democratic candidates and the incumbent President Trump criss-cross the country, their campaigns have been grappling with the best way to deal with coronavirus without losing momentum in campaigning.

According to the CDC, 35 states now report cases of COVID-19 with 19 deaths and more than 400 cases. Globally, more than 100,000 people have been infected with some 4,000 deaths reported across nearly 100 countries. As many companies are forced to ask employees to self-quarantine and countries close borders, the presidential candidates continue to hold rallies, shake hands, and take photos with voters.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The CDC has advised the public to “avoid crowding” and to limit “attendance at larger gatherings.” The center has also warned against handshaking and says to use other “noncontact methods of greeting.” 

The campaigns have remained largely quiet on any precautions they might be taking, as Bernie Sanders cancelled rallies in Ohio due to coronavirus. The state is set to vote on March 17 alongside Florida, Arizona, and Illinois.

”Out of concern for public health and safety, we are canceling tonight’s rally in Cleveland,” said Mike Casca, Bernie 2020 Communications Director. “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.”

The campaign went on to say that “all future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”

It represents a turnaround for the camp that was hesitant to provide details on the campaign’s concerns about the virus.

“We do not hold a rally without first conferring with public health officials,” Sanders told reporters Monday while speaking in Detroit. “It is an issue we think about a whole lot. We do not go forward without consultation with public health officials.”

But Sanders had stopped short of detailing any specific measures he’s taking to avoid getting sick.

“I’m running for president of the United States and that requires a lot of work,” he answered.

A campaign official told Yahoo Finance that “we will continue to take precautions advised by public health officials.”

Biden’s campaign cancelled its rally in Cleveland after holding a rally in Detroit, Michigan Monday night where he was still shaking hands with voters. 

Source: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

“In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is cancelled,” Biden for President Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told Yahoo Finance. “We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events in the coming days.”

The Trump campaign also did not respond to Yahoo Finance’s repeated requests for comment. 

However, the Women for Trump bus tour did have to be postponed due to “scheduling conflicts” after people on the bus potentially had been exposed to coronavirus.

While Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (which oversees the CDC) has encouraged people to avoid large groups, both he and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci have stopped short of recommending that people avoid rallies and campaign events. Instead, the two have maintained that “it all depends” on the communities where events are held and the circumstances of the gatherings.

Update: Story has been updated to reflect decision by Bernie Sanders and Biden campaigns to cancel rallies in Ohio.

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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