Sanders, Biden Scrap Campaign Rallies Amid Virus Fears

Tyler Pager

(Bloomberg) -- Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have canceled planned rallies in Cleveland, Ohio Tuesday amid concerns about coronavirus spreading at public events and suggested the campaigns might suspend large gatherings.

But President Donald Trump’s campaign took a different tack, announcing Tuesday night that he would attend a ‘Catholics for Trump’ coalition event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 19, that “will bring together Catholics from across the nation.”

Mike Casca, Sanders’s spokesman, said the Vermont senator’s campaign had canceled the rally Tuesday “out of concern for public health and safety.” Casca added in a statement that “all future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Sanders’s announcement, followed within the hour by Biden’s, were the first indications that the 2020 presidential campaign will adapt to the virus, which has caused cancellations of conferences and other large gatherings.

Biden’s campaign made a similar statement, saying their decision was made “out of abundance of caution.”

“We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events,” said Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Biden, 77.

As another disruption to the campaign by the coronavirus, the Democratic National Committee said Tuesday night a debate between Biden and Sanders in Arizona on March 15 would be held without a live audience.

Before Trump’s campaign announced the Milwaukee gathering, Vice President Mike Pence said it would decide whether to hold events “on a day-to-day basis.”

“I’m very confident that the campaign will take the very best information and make the very best decision going forward,” Pence said at a White briefing on the coronavirus.

[Live blog: March 10 primary results]

Trump, 73, last held a rally March 2. He said over the weekend that he would continue staging campaign rallies with thousands of supporters regardless of the threat of the virus.

Sanders, 78, visited two polling locations in Michigan before he was expected to hold a rally in Ohio, whose primary is next week.

Outside a polling location in Dearborn Heights on Tuesday, Sanders shook hands with supporters and posed for photos after speaking with reporters.

“I have used more hand sanitizer in the last two weeks than I have used in my entire life,” Sanders said on CNN.

Primaries were being held Tuesday in Idaho, Washington state, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and North Dakota.

On Monday, Sanders held a roundtable with public health officials and medical professionals in Detroit to discuss coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to it.

“We take the coronavirus very seriously as you know we had a panel discussion with some of the leading experts in the country on that yesterday,” Sanders said Tuesday. “And we take this issue, unlike the president, very, very seriously.”

Until the Democrats’ announcements, the presidential campaigns were sticking with plans for public events, even as the surge in coronavirus cases spooked the stock market and led at least five members of Congress to quarantine themselves on Monday after coming in contact with someone who had been infected.

Public health experts had advised against many of the campaign activities that presidential candidates routinely engage in, like shaking hands, giving hugs. And people over 60 have been urged to avoid crowds.

Among the states holding primaries, Washington State instructed voters to seal their mail-in ballots with wet sponges or cloths -- using the slogan “whether healthy or sick, please don’t lick” -- while poll workers are wearing gloves to open them. Michigan urged election clerks to regularly wipe down everything from doorknobs to voting booths with disinfectant.

Missouri moved polling locations from assisted living centers to protect the elderly from exposure to the virus.

The campaigns had already taken some small steps. Bottles of hand sanitizer appeared at many Sanders events. At rallies over the weekend in Missouri and Mississippi, Biden skipped his usual extended stay on the rope line, where he typically grabs voters’ phones for selfies, shakes their hands and gives them hugs, and he used hand sanitizer when he sat down to eat at a soul food buffet in Jackson.

Trump said over the weekend that he would continue holding campaign rallies with thousands of supporters regardless of the threat of the virus.

“We will have tremendous rallies and we’re doing very well and we’ve done a fantastic job with respect to that subject on the virus,” he said Saturday.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Joe Biden on March 4.)

(Adds Trump campaign announcement in second paragraph, DNC statement in seventh)

--With assistance from Ryan Teague Beckwith and Jennifer Epstein.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyler Pager in Romulus, Michigan at tpager1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Magan Crane

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