Vice Presidential Debate's Plexiglass Likely Won't Help Contain Viruses

In light of the news that President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 following the first presidential debate, additional safety protocols were put in place during the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris. One of those protocols included placing plexiglass barriers between Pence and Harris. However, as the New York Times reported, those barriers were likely not all that effective.

As the publication noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines on Monday that indicated that indoors, the virus could be carried aloft by aerosols (or tiny droplets) farther than six feet. Linsey Marr, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, laughed when she saw the set-up for the debate stage. She said, "It's absurd. But these are even smaller and less adequate than I imagined." Others, including Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, said that the barriers would have been significant if the two were seated closer together (Harris and Pence were sitting over 12 feet apart during the event). Murray said, "Those plexiglass barriers are really only going to be effective if the vice president or Kamala Harris are spitting at each other."

The decision to implement a plexiglass barrier was initially met with criticism from Pence's team, as they did not believe that it was medically necessary to incorporate. Katie Miller, a spokesperson for Pence, even said, "If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it." In response to that criticism, Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, told CNN, "Senator Harris will be at the debate, respecting the protections that the Cleveland Clinic has put in place to promote safety for all concerned. If the Trump administration's war on masks has now become a war on safety shields, that tells you everything you need to know about why their COVID response is a failure." Although they voiced concerns about the barrier, Pence's team ultimately agreed to put the plexiglass barriers in place.

As previously mentioned, these newest safety protocols come after Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 only days after the first presidential debate. Since the president announced his diagnosis on early Friday morning, several others in his inner circle have tested positive including former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Trump's personal assistant Nicholas Luna, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. As of Tuesday, Pence tested negative for the illness.