(Update: The debate will not take place in Phoenix and will be moved instead to Washington D.C., the Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in order to reduce cross-country travel, all parties have decided that the best path forward is to hold Sunday’s debate at CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a release. In addition, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos will no longer be one of the moderators because the DNC said he had recently been “in proximity with someone who was in direct contact with a person that tested positive for coronavirus.")
Original story follows:
The Democratic debate in Phoenix this Sunday won't have a live audience or press room amid COVID-19 concerns, CNN announced on Tuesday.
"CNN's top priority is the safety of our employees and community members," the network said in an email. "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."
The leading Democratic candidates, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, both canceled election-night rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday amid concerns about the novel coronavirus, which has sickened hundreds in the United States with a disease known as COVID-19.
In Phoenix, cases of COVID-19 are still in low numbers, with the sixth presumptive positive case announced on Monday.
As of Tuesday morning, the state had tested 84 people for the disease, resulting in two confirmed positive cases and four presumptive positive cases.
Meanwhile, other parts of the nation have been hit hard. In Washington state, 25 people have died from the illness resulting from the coronavirus. Several municipalities have also made state-of-emergency declarations in attempts to address the virus's spread.
Biden and Sanders will debate in an empty Arizona Federal Theatre on Sunday in the final Democratic debate before Arizona's Democratic Presidential Preference Election, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.
The debate is sponsored by CNN and Univision and alongside CHC Bold, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Bob Grossfeld, a Phoenix-based Democratic strategist who isn't working with either Sanders' or Biden's campaigns, said he thinks the lack of a live audience could swing in Biden's favor.
"Sanders has been playing big crowds for a long time now," Grossfeld said. "That's his pacing. I've seen him do interviews and it kind of comes off like a speech."
As the campaigns react to the news, early results are just starting to come in for the six states that held their primary contests on Tuesday.
CNN encouraged viewers to tune into Sunday's debate online or on live TV. It's scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. local time on March 15.
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