Joe Biden's presidential campaign announced on Wednesday that it had formed a new advisory committee to counsel the campaign on the risks posed by the new coronavirus, just hours after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a pandemic.
The Public Health Advisory Committee will provide "science-based, expert advice regarding steps the campaign should take to minimize health risks for the candidate, staff, and supporters," the campaign said in a statement.
"The campaign's top priority is and will continue to be the health and safety of the public," the statement said. "Members of the committee will provide ongoing counsel to the campaign, which will in turn continue to update the public regarding operational decisions."
The effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is just starting to be felt by the major presidential campaigns. Biden and his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, both canceled rallies in Ohio this week, citing concerns about the disease. CNN on Tuesday scrapped plans for a live audience at the next debate, scheduled for Sunday.
On Wednesday the campaign announced that it would cancel events in Illinois and Florida on Friday and Monday at the request of elected officials in those states. Both states vote Tuesday.
"Friday's and Monday's events will become virtual events, and the campaign will make announcements about additional details on the format and timing of the virtual events and on future events in the coming days," the campaign said.
Biden and Sanders — along with President Donald Trump — could be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus because of their age and frequent travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that older people are more at risk. Biden is 77, Sanders is 78 and Trump is 73.
Representatives for Sanders and Trump did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
The six-member committee includes a number of former Obama administration officials, including former Office of Management and Budget health policy advisor Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and former homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco.
Dr. Rebecca Katz, co-director of Georgetown University's Center for Global Health Science and Security, former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, a professor and disaster preparedness expert at Columbia University's school of public health, are also on the committee.
The coronavirus has rapidly spread throughout the world since first appearing in China late last year. There have been more than 120,000 cases reported globally and at least 1,110 in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There have been at least 35 domestic deaths reported.
On Tuesday, the attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court said he expected between 70 million and 150 million people in the United States to ultimately become infected with COVID-19 during closed-door remarks to Senate staff, NBC News has reported.
The rapid spread of the disease has threatened to slow global growth to a standstill, spooking financial markets and sending the major U.S. indices into or near bear market territory, or down 20% from their recent highs. So far, President Donald Trump has not reached an agreement with congressional Democrats over potential stimulus measures.
Biden is expected to deliver remarks on coronavirus in Wilmington, Del on Thursday. On Monday, Biden addressed Trump's handling of the public health crisis during an appearance on MSNBC's "The Last Word."
"I think there's a reason why you see the markets falling and you see the reason, the reason why people are very upset," Biden said. "But I think if the president were to just get out of the way, let the experts at CDC and others handle this, speak to it, talk about what needs to be done, we'd all be better off."
Biden is currently leading in the delegate race to win the Democratic nomination, widening the gap this week with victories in four out of six states that voted on Tuesday.
Biden carried Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, while Sanders won in North Dakota. The state of Washington, the night's second biggest prize, remains too close to call.