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Notre Dame withdraws as 2020 presidential debate host citing coronavirus threat

The school is the second to withdraw from hosting a presidential debate this year.

The University of Notre Dame has withdrawn from hosting the first 2020 presidential debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday.

The debate, scheduled for Sept. 29, will instead be co-hosted by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, and will be held at the university's Health Education Campus in Cleveland, the commission said.

Notre Dame, near South bend, Indiana, said it decided to withdraw because the public health risks of holding a presidential debate during a pandemic outweighed the potential benefits.

The school is the second to withdraw from hosting a presidential debate this year. Late last month, the University of Michigan withdrew from hosting the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15.

In a statement, Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, said that after consulting with the county’s public health officials and the school’s board of trustees, he made “this difficult decision because the necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus.”

“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,” Jenkins added

“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 wrote.

The new site of the second debate, Case Western’s Health Education Campus, is home to the school’s medical, dental and nursing students, as well as students in other related fields.

When the University of Michigan withdrew last month, the commission didn't specifically give the coronavirus as a reason, but reports suggested that the school was concerned about bringing a large gathering of campaign personnel, supporters and media to its campus amid a pandemic.

The second debate will instead be held in Miami, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the commission announced in June.

The third presidential debate is still scheduled to be held Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and the vice presidential debate is still scheduled for Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the commission said.