Amid rising concerns of coming into contact with an individual infected by the greatly feared Wuhan virus, The Democratic National Committee opted to disinvite audience members from the CNN-Univision Democratic presidential debate this upcoming Sunday evening.
The clash between Vermont Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and Former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware will go forward in Phoenix, Arizona that evening, but both candidates asked that there be no audience for their own safety, despite Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego deeming the event safe to go forward as planned.
"DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the Mayor's office, which advised that we could proceed as planned," said Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC Communications Director. "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. We will continue to remain in daily contact with all stakeholders through Sunday."
The debate will mark by far the smallest number of Democratic candidates since the early days of the presidential run, with just Biden and Sanders. Though Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has not officially exited the race, she has received just two delegates and is not close to qualifying to be on the debate stage Sunday. The first debate in June of 2019 drew 20 candidates who shared the stage over two nights in Miami.
The unusual debate format in Phoenix with no audience follows a pattern of other recent high profile events that have opted to forgo having crowds, including the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix at the end of the month.
As the host of the Sunday debate, CNN supported the decision of Sanders and Biden.
"CNN's top priority is the safety of our employees and community members," a network statement read. "This extends to guests planning to attend or cover our debate on March 15. At the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to eliminate the debate live audience, the press filing center and spin room in Phoenix."