Scene for Wednesday’s VP debate: Red, white, blue — and plexiglass

The stage is set with glass between seats ahead of the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will participate in the debate Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The stage in Utah has been set with all the trappings of a modern political debate: Red, white and blue carpets, a backdrop of the Declaration of Independence — and plexiglass.

The clear partitions that will divide Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City are a late addition that serve as a clear reminder that the coronavirus pandemic rages on less than a month before the Nov. 3 election. The two candidates will sit in desks spaced more than 12 feet (3.7 meters) apart, and each desk will have a partition on the side facing the other candidate.

The partitions caused a stir: Harris’ team requested they be used after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after his first presidential debate against Democrat Joe Biden. Pence’s team, meanwhile, insisted they were not medically necessary, an objection that came as Trump returned to the White House. The Trump campaign is trying to move past the virus despite the president’s own diagnosis.

Other reminders that these are not normal times for a vice presidential debate: 20 chairs for guests are spaced roughly 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart in the debate hall, a performing arts center on the University of Utah campus. Additional guests will be seated in traditional theater seats, though they will have to sit spaced apart. Everyone will be required to wear a mask. Even the network TV cameras have plexiglass wrapping on the sides and back.

But the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, does not. The existence of barriers between Harris and Pence — but not between the candidates and Page — serves as a visual cue from Democrats that sharing the stage with Pence is the primary concern.

Both Harris and Pence tested negative for the virus on Tuesday, their respective teams said. A number of members of the Trump administration are continuing to test positive.


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