WASHINGTON — The University of Notre Dame on Monday withdrew as the host site for the first presidential debate, citing "necessary health precautions" posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that would have "diminished the educational value" for hosting the event on campus.
The first debate between President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, set for Sept. 29, will instead take place in Cleveland, Ohio, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced.
Notre Dame President The Rev. John I. Jenkins, in a letter to the university's community, said "the inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting — to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process.”
Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic will co-host the reorganized debate in Cleveland, which will take place at the university's Health Education Campus. Case Western Reserve University was the site of the 2004 vice presidential debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Democrat John Edwards.
The move from Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana marks the second time a university has backed out of plans to host a presidential debate this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. The University of Michigan last month withdrew from hosting the third presidential debate, set for Oct. 15. It is now scheduled for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Jenkins thanked members of the Notre Dame community for putting in "countless hours" to plan the debate as well as the Commission on Presidential Debates for their "professionalism and understanding."
"But in the end, the constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event — as understandable and necessary as they are — have led us to withdraw," he said.
As a small number of universities scale back to online-only learning this fall amid the pandemic, Notre Dame in May announced plans to resume in-person classes on Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than previously planned. The plan is to skip a traditional fall break in October and complete a full semester by Thanksgiving break.
The third presidential debate remains set for the campus of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on Oct. 22. The vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
At the new Cleveland debate venue, Samson Pavilion, organizers said the Cleveland Clinic will establish "risk-mitigation procedures" involving audience size, distance among seats and disinfectant measures. Specific plans, including whether a live audience will be present, will depend on the status of the pandemic.
Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic, M.D., and Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder, said they are "honored" to host the debate.
"This pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of health care and scientific discovery in unprecedented ways," the leaders of the two institutions said in a joint statement. "To have the presidential candidates discuss these issues in our innovative learning space represents a tremendous opportunity for both institutions – and our entire region.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID 19: Notre Dame withdraws from hosting first presidential debate