The debate, which will take place at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, an educational collaboration between the two organizations, was originally supposed to take place at the University of Notre Dame. But the school withdrew July 27 amid concerns over COVID-19.
Cleveland Clinic chief clinical transformation officer Dr. James Merlino is helping guide safety precautions for the event here and will lead the team advising the Commission on Presidential Debates on health protocols for all the debates.
He walks us through some of the challenges of hosting an event like this in the midst of a pandemic.
Q: What makes the Clinic confident that you are able to host the debate safely?
A: I think what is different about having it here, particularly, is the unique feature that it’s situated on a hospital campus. It gives us a lot of ability to control the safety features. So with the pandemic, one thing that we’ve learned as health care organizations, and it's not just Cleveland Clinic, its partners in the community, University Hospitals and MetroHealth System, but also around the country, is that we understand how to keep people safe, and we understand how to layer in tactics and strategies to make sure that we’re creating the appropriate barrier to protect people from COVID.
Q: What are some of the precautions that will be in place?
A: We’re still developing a plan, but things that we would be considering are obviously health screenings, temperature checking, testing, social distancing, greatly, greatly reduced footprint size. You won’t see 1,000 people in that building. You’ll see a dramatically reduced footprint.
Q: Why is the Health Education Campus itself a fitting site for the debate?
A: [It's among] the first of its kind in the United States, where you are cohosting future health care professionals, nurses, physicians, dental students, social workers in a unique learning environment. If you think about that, and what we’re currently dealing with in a global pandemic, the symbolism of health care, importance of health care, endemic and pandemic response, training the future leaders — it’s kind of cool.
Q: Is there any update as to whether or not an audience will be allowed at the debates?
A: We’re working through the details of that now with the Commission on Presidential Debates, so not a lot of new information. What I can tell you is that the debates of the past will not be like the debates of today, obviously, because of COVID. So you’ll see dramatically reduced footprint, both for an audience and also for support around it. As you know, our No. 1 priority is safety, as is overwhelmingly the thing we’re focused on. And so all risk mitigation efforts that we’re aware of, that we can layer in to create barriers to keep people safe, we’re going to do. We’re deep in the planning of that right now.
Q: With a viewing audience expected to exceed 100 million people, and given that it’s the first presidential debate, is there a lot of pressure on you?
A: When you’re charged with helping to put on an event like this, the pressure is on because certainly we want to do a good job for the city, the Commission and the candidates. If I said there’s no pressure, I'd be lying to you. But I think this is something that again, we’re excited about. The Clinic and Case have a lot of available resources to be able to work with the Commission and the government to do this and do it safely. So, I think we’re excited and people are energized.
12:00 PM EST
August 20, 2020