What happens to the presidential debates now that Trump has COVID?


Forty percent of registered voters think the next debate should be held virtually, according to one recent poll.

Donald Trump's positive coronavirus test, and his subsequent hospitalization, have thrown the remaining two presidential debates — currently scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami and Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee — into uncertainty.

Future debates between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden may have to be held virtually, rescheduled, or even canceled altogether, depending on the health of the candidates and other staff. Although Trump downplayed his diagnosis on Monday, saying he would leave the hospital after a brief three-day stint despite not being "out of the woods" according to his doctors, experts are still unsure whether the debates should be held at all, and if so, how.

Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and the press at Harvard University's Kennedy School, told the American Independent Foundation that Trump's health "will determine whether additional debates will occur and under what circumstances."

"If he has mild symptoms, which is often the case, the final debate for sure could be held as scheduled. If his symptoms are severe, it's likely that no additional debates will be held," Patterson said. "Something in between could result in a virtual debate, which the public would accept as the logical choice. The possibilities are several, each contingent on the course of his disease."

Hans Hassell, a political science professor at Florida State University, thinks it's "highly unlikely that there will be a debate on October 15, given the president's health and needing to quarantine."

"I think that's still a wait and see at this point, but I would be surprised if it happened," Hassell told the American Independent Foundation, while acknowledging that his medical expertise is limited.

The professor added that more details on Trump’s condition are needed “to make a good judgment.”

Trump, meanwhile, says he's ready to go. On Tuesday, he claimed he would attend the next debate on Oct. 15, despite it being unsafe for him to do so. "It will be great!" he tweeted, claiming he was "FEELING GREAT" in a separate tweet.

The Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the status of the debates. The organization is reportedly considering a virtual event but hasn't made a final decision yet.

A YouGov poll released Friday surveyed what Americans think about Trump catching COVID-19 and asked whether voters think the next presidential debate should happen as scheduled.

The results appeared split along party lines, with 48% of Democrats and 41% of independents saying the debate "should happen, but not in-person (over video/phone)," and 48% of Republicans saying the debate should still be held in person.

According to the poll, 40% of registered voters said the next debate should happen virtually via video or phone, while 26% said it should be canceled altogether and 25% said it should still be held in person.

The vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is still scheduled for Wednesday evening at the University of Utah.

The two candidates will stand 12 feet apart on the debate stage, more than the originally planned seven feet.

As Trump's exact health condition remains uncertain, questions remain about what the final month of the 2020 presidential campaign will look like.

Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday night. According to his doctors, Trump is not yet entirely healthy, and "may not entirely be out of the woods."

"We all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard because we’re in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient who received the therapies he has," said White House physician Dr. Sean Conley, referring to an experimental drug cocktail Trump was receiving.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.