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Democratic debate live updates: Biden and Sanders go head to head in Washington, D.C.

The coronavirus outbreak, which prompted a change in venue, dominated much of the discussion.

The nation's response to the coronavirus outbreak dominated much of the discussion in the 11th Democratic debate on Sunday night — the first time that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders went head to head on stage in the 2020 election cycle.

Also a first: Biden vowing to name a woman as his running mate if he wins the nomination.

The former vice president and Vermont independent senator squared off in dramatically different surroundings than initially planned, Washington instead of Phoenix, and in CNN's studio instead of a 5,000-seat theater with a live audience — a venue change prompted by coronavirus fears as the nation goes into lockdown over the pandemic.

Biden has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination following a string of state primary victories since winning in South Carolina last month. NBC News provided stories, analysis and up-to-the-minute liveblog coverage of the debate, which also streamed live on and aired on CNN and Univision.

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Live Blog

Sanders says ‘shut the president up’ while Biden says 'we're at war with the virus' at Democratic debate

The coronavirus dominated the start of the Democratic debate on Sunday night, with Bernie Sanders ripping President Donald Trump and Joe Biden laying out his plan to contain the outbreak.

“Shut the president up, right now,” Sanders said. Biden said, “We're at war with the virus,” and called for measures to contain the spread and bulk up the health care system. Sanders said the virus issue showed the importance of "Medicare for All," while Biden said the country first needs to deal with the crisis. 

The candidates have time to actually debate

The much dwindled Democratic field to just two candidates gave viewers a chance to get an earful on the coronavirus and the positions of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders without interruption from moderators or cheers or groans from the audience. Because of coronavirus fears, a live audience was canceled.

Question about a national quarantine

Biden, asked if he’d put in place a national quarantine to help combat the spread of coronavirus, did not answer the question.

Instead, he said he’d “call a meeting in the Situation Room” of all his experts and ask them, “what is it that we need.”

Get the minute-by-minute play-by-play on the NBC News debate topic tracker

Ten minutes in and the coronavirus dominates the debate. See which topics get the most talk-time with our 11th debate topic tracker, updated live through the night.

First question is on coronavirus

With the first question of the night, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked each candidate what they had to say to the American people in “confronting” the “new reality” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden replied first, saying the pandemic was “bigger than any one of us,” and that he would propose that every state have at least “10 places for drive-through testing” for the illness.

Sanders, up next, opened his answer by saying the biggest need was to “shut this president up right now.”

Sanders accused Trump of “undermining” his own public health professionals.

Elbow bump and distance at the Democratic debate

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders greet each other with an elbow bump as they arrive for the 11th Democratic presidential debate in Washington on March 15, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

The threat of the spread of coronavirus was present on the Democratic debate stage with the podiums of the two candidates — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — placed six feet apart and Biden and Sanders trading an elbow bump rather than a handshake. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders (R) take part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images

Biden, Sanders take aim at Trump over coronavirus: 'Incompetence and recklessness'

In a direct rebuttal to President Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders delivered somber, and at times searing, speeches Thursday slamming the administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and detailing how they believe the government should be responding to the crisis.

"If there ever was a time in the modern history of our country where we are all in this together, this is that moment," Sanders said in Burlington, Vermont, after suggesting the death toll may exceed that of American service members during World War II. "Now is the time for solidarity."

Earlier, in an address from his hometown, Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said, "Downplaying it, being overly dismissive or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease."

"But neither should we panic, or fall back on xenophobia," he said. "Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration."

Read the full story here.

Un-conventional? Coronavirus could risk Democratic, GOP national party gatherings

The coronavirus pandemic could pose big problems for the two marquee political events before Election Day — the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.

Party leaders are being forced to consider the possibility that the four-day gatherings may have to be dramatically scaled back or essentially cancelled, while the candidate nominating process and fundraising tens of millions of dollars for the events could be severely hampered, former convention officials told NBC News.

The economic impact on the host cities — Milwaukee for the Democrats on July 13-16 and Charlotte for the Republicans on August 24-27 — could be devastating. While the economic benefit for both 2016 conventions fell short of some projections, the GOP's Cleveland effort generated $142 million while in Philadelphia, the Democratic event brought about $231 million.

Read the full story here.