Medical Examiner

Ban the Trump Family From the Debate

Trump guests including Ivanka, who turns to look at the camera, sit in socially distanced chairs on a red carpet. No one is wearing a mask.
Ivanka Trump at the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The final presidential debate will happen on Thursday night. It is both dangerous and ridiculous that this event will be held in person. We are in a pandemic, and we have very capable streaming technologies. People do not need to share the same geographical location to debate one another. It feels futile to keep saying this, really. But apparently we’re going to have the would-be presidents debate each other in person, and with an audience to boot, so I will say the next obvious thing: It should be held without the members of the Trump family attending.

The reason for this is simple: They cannot be trusted to take COVID precautions. At the last debate, members of the Trump camp who attended watched the whole thing maskless. Everyone was supposed to be tested prior to the debate (tests are fickle, but getting a negative result from everyone would have reduced the odds of COVID spreading in the room). But it turned out that the Trump entourage showed up to the debate location in Cleveland too late to get swabbed. The debate commission clarified that it did not test all attendees but instead relied on the honor system. (I’ve emailed the debate commission to ask if it is going to be enforcing tests and masks this time, but have not received a reply.) When, in lieu of a second debate, Trump sat down at a town hall preceded by a grilling by Savannah Guthrie, he refused to confirm that he had tested negative prior to taking the stage with Biden. “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” the president said.

Experts agree that Trump potentially put Biden at risk for COVID-19 at that first debate. This time, Donald Trump’s chances of directly infecting Biden are basically none. He’ll be more than 20 days out from his first publicly shared positive test, basically putting him outside of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for breaking isolation even for people who had a severe case. More importantly, Anthony Fauci himself has reviewed data from a PCR test for the president and confirmed that he’s noninfectious. Sure, it is hypothetically possible to get COVID-19 twice—but it seems at this point to be exceedingly rare. Stacking all of that together, it would be deeply surprising if Trump himself were somehow a threat to Biden’s personal health.

What is a concern—what was always the concern—is all those guests and videographers and other workers who will be necessarily sharing airspace. As a virologist told me after the first debate, it’s not just transmission between the two nominees that’s the issue. Transmission from one campaign to the other—and then maybe on to the nominee—is a concern too. And certainly, it could go both ways—a Biden member could have COVID that slips through the safety measures. But on the Trump side, there’s reason to believe that they will follow fewer of those safety measures in the first place. They are guests who have already failed to comply with safety rules. Guests who are there to root for someone who got COVID after openly mocking safety rules. Guests who—honestly, just why is anyone even at this thing in the first place? Ban the guests. But definitely ban the Trump family.