The Democratic presidential debate scheduled to take place on Sunday in Phoenix will go forward without a live audience amid fears of spreading the new coronavirus, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said Tuesday.
"The DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the Mayor's office, which advised that we could proceed as planned," DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement. "Nevertheless, our number one priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans and all those involved in the debate."
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the two remaining major contenders for the Democratic nomination, both requested that there be no live audience, Hinojosa said.
Biden and Sanders canceled Ohio rallies earlier on Tuesday because of coronavirus concerns, the first major campaign disruption from the disease. President Donald Trump has yet to cancel a campaign rally because of coronavirus but is making decisions "literally on a day to day basis," according to Vice President Mike Pence.
Sunday's debate, sponsored by CNN and Univision, is the first to take place since Super Tuesday, when the field was winnowed significantly. CNN said in a statement that there will also be no media filing center or "spin room" on Sunday, where surrogates for the campaigns speak to the press following the debate.
Public health officials have cautioned against hosting large, public gatherings which could hasten the spread of the new virus, which has tanked global markets amid fears of a worldwide slowdown in economic activity.
The new disease has led to the cancellations of iconic cultural events such as Austin's South by Southwest music festival and the closure of an increasing number of colleges and universities.
There are more than 800 known cases in the U.S., and at least 28 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.