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Biden signals next debate may not happen if Trump remains contagious

CDC guidelines say people should isolate for 10 days from the point of showing symptoms, and 20 days in severe cases.
Image: t U.S. President Donald Trump returns to the White House after treatment for the coronavirus at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony of the White House on Monday after returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for Covid-19 treatment.Erin Scott / Reuters

Former Vice President Joe Biden signaled Tuesday that if President Donald Trump remains contagious with the coronavirus the presidential town hall debate slated for next week may not happen.

"I don't know what exactly the rules are gonna be and I'm not sure that what President Trump is all about now — I don't know what his status is," Biden told reporters. "I'm looking forward to being able to debate him, but I just hope all the protocols are followed which is necessary at the time."

He added, "I think we are going to have to follow very strict guidelines — too many people have been infected and it's a very serious problem, and so I'll be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say."

Biden made the remarks before boarding his flight back to Wilmington, Delaware, and after he delivered a campaign speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he slammed the use of the pandemic as a "political weapon."

Biden said that both he and Trump should follow strict guidelines if the debate still occurs because the president has not been transparent about “what his status is” throughout his illness.

The Democratic nominee noted that he tested negative and made those results public earlier Tuesday.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that he is "looking forward to" the second presidential debate even as he continues treatment this week for Covid-19.

"I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami," Trump said. "It will be great!"

The president is still battling his Covid-19 infection after having first shown symptoms Thursday, according to the White House. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say people should isolate for 10 days from the point of showing systems and 20 days in severe cases.

Asked whether the campaign will comply with testing requirements and any additional health measures for the debate in light of Trump's diagnosis, campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh simply responded: "The president intends to participate in person."

A source familiar with the discussions said one option under discussion is to hold the coming debates outside, adding that no other options of note have yet been discussed. The final presidential debates will take place in warmer climates, Miami and Nashville, Tennessee.

Thirteen people close to the president have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days, in addition to three Republican senators. The president, saying he feels "great," has downplayed the virus since he left the hospital.

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White House communications director Alyssa Farah said Tuesday on Fox News that Trump will enter the debate "with an even new mindset on the coronavirus."

"He's firsthand, you know, lost friends to this. He's grieved with Americans," she said. "But now, he himself is coming as a survivor, and I think you're going to hear that in his debate."

Like his doctors said Monday, Farah said that the administration knows Trump "is not out of the woods yet" but that he is improving. She added that staff members are encouraging him to "slow down."

Trump, however, went on a tweetstorm Tuesday night, railing about the Russian investigation and retweeting conspiracy theories. He also continued to criticize Biden and the debate format.

"Chris Wallace was a total JOKE. Protected Joe all night long. He’s no Mike!!!" Trump tweeted, referring to the Fox News Sunday host, who moderated the first debate, and his late father Mike Wallace, the famous journalist.

Trump has taken a number of drugs to combat the virus in its early days, which included a steroid therapy typically used in more severe Covid-19 cases.

Before he left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, Trump's doctors said he is being tested to determine his viral load and whether he remains contagious, but they would not answer questions about the results or when the president first tested positive. The doctors also said that they were concerned that his oxygen levels had dropped twice in recent days, necessitating supplemental oxygen, but that he was improving by late in the weekend.

Biden, who stood near Trump at last week's presidential debate, has so far tested negative.

Biden's deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" that she expected the debates to take place.

"Obviously, we send President Trump our best," she said. "We hope that he is well and able to debate. If he is, Joe Biden will certainly be there."

Wednesday's vice presidential debate will feature a plexiglass barrier separating Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence, who has so far tested negative but has been near others who have tested positive in recent days.

Pence officials have mocked the inclusion of a barrier. Pence's office does not want a plexiglass divider on his side of the stage, according to a White House official, and his team considers it excessive given that CDC guidelines recommend such partitions when six feet of distance is not possible.

Biden did not say if he plans to ask for plexiglass during next week’s debate.

CORRECTION (Oct. 6, 2020, 8:05 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated when President Donald Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He left Monday, not Tuesday.