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DNC says Sanders/Biden AZ debate will go on despite coronavirus concerns — but without an audience

'Our number one priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans, and all those involved in the debate'

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Viewers shouldn't expect to hear any cheers or applause in the background of Sunday night's Democratic primary debate, regardless of what happens on stage.

Due to concerns about the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday that the event will take place without a live audience.

In a Tuesday night statement, DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said the decision was made despite advice that the event could have gone ahead as initially planned.

"At the request of both campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, there will be no live audience at the Arizona debate taking place on Sunday, March 15th," the statement said. "The DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the Mayor's office, which advised that we could proceed as planned. 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 change in event format comes after Hinojosa said earlier this week that the DNC had "no plans to cancel the debate" but would remain in consultation with local officials.

The Grand Canyon State's first case of coronavirus was confirmed in late January. On Monday, the state reported its sixth confirmed case of the disease, as state Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ informed the public that the state had also seen community spread of the virus for the first time.

And while Arizona has been less impacted by the coronavirus outbreak than other states such as Washington or New York, concerns about the disease have led to the cancellation or postponement of multiple events in the state in recent days.

The event is slated take place at the Federal Theater in downtown Phoenix and will be the 11th such event of the primary race. It will only feature candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden, thanks to controversial new DNC criteria that singularly excluded remaining candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who would have qualified under earlier standards.

"To keep me off the stage, the DNC again arbitrarily changed the debate qualifications," Gabbard tweeted Friday, calling on her opponents to speak out against the new rules. "Previously they changed the qualifications in the OPPOSITE direction so Bloomberg could debate. I ask that you stand w/ me against the DNC's transparent effort to exclude me from the debates."

One last thing…
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