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U.S. vice presidential debate to include plexiglass barrier after White House outbreak

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their debate on Wednesday, a source familiar with the matter said, in an effort to lower the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden disembarks from his campaign plane as he arrives at Miami International Airport prior to participating in a town hall event in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The debate, the only one scheduled between the vice presidential candidates, is scheduled for Salt Lake City, Utah, six days after President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Both Harris, a U.S. senator, and Republican Pence have tested negative in recent days, with the vice president working from home over the weekend instead of the White House. A number of White House staffers and Republican allies, including three U.S. senators, have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

In a statement, Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, said, “If Senator Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it.” The Biden campaign declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Monday he is willing to participate in next week’s scheduled debate with Trump as long as health experts say it would be safe.

Trump announced he would leave a military hospital here on Monday after three days of treatment, though a series of mixed messages from the White House have prompted uncertainty about how ill he became.

The diagnosis has raised questions about the safety of staging the debates for the Nov. 3 election. The second in- person encounter for Biden and Trump, who first debated last week, is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, Florida.

“If the scientists say that it’s safe and the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine. I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do,” Biden, who tested negative for COVID-19 over the weekend, told reporters in Delaware before heading to Florida on a campaign trip.

The normal quarantine period for anyone testing positive for the novel coronavirus is 14 days.

Trump has frequently played down the threat of the pandemic that has now infected 7.4 million Americans and killed more than 209,000. Biden has criticized Trump for not taking the health concerns seriously enough.

Reporting by Jeff Mason in Wilmington, Delaware, and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool

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