MIAMI - When President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden take the stage at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 15, they’ll be debating before a small and socially distanced audience, according to plans crafted by the host facility.
And everyone will be required to follow Miami-Dade County's "New Normal" rules for stopping the spread of the coronavirus _ which currently includes wearing face coverings.
Under the "Presidential Town Hall COVID-19 Operating Plan," dated July 15, all debate participants _ which includes the two candidates, a moderator and 36 undecided voters selected from the community by the Commission on Presidential Debates _ will be socially distanced on and off stage. Audience capacity will also be greatly reduced. A maximum of 115 invited guests will be allowed to sit in the Knight Concert Hall auditorium _ which can hold more than 2,000 people _ and all audience members will be spaced out in first, second and third tier seating.
In addition to following social distancing guidelines inside the building, "all people on site" must also wear a face covering inside and outside. The plan is silent on whether Biden and Trump must wear face masks on stage, but the county's rules currently require facial coverings in all public settings, and anyone who breaks the rules is now subject to a $100 fine.
Trump did not wear a mask during a July 10 visit to South Florida.
Arsht CEO Johann Zietsman deferred questions about protocols for the candidates to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which did not respond to a phone call and email.
The commission moved the Oct. 15 debate to Miami after the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor last month backed out of its agreement to host the event, citing health concerns due to the novel coronavirus. Since then, Miami-Dade County's outbreak has worsened, and the mayor of Miami _ where the debate would be located _ has warned that a second shutdown may be needed.
The Arsht Center, which is currently closed due to COVID-19, submitted its reopening plan to Miami-Dade County administrators on June 22, and the plan was approved on July 4. The town hall operating plan is consistent with the approved reopening plan, according to the July 15 memo. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez noted in a memo to the Board of County Commissioners that the plan includes "strict conformance with the New Normal guidelines, including provisions to ensure that all local, state and CDC requirements are met."
Michael Spring, the director of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, wrote in an email: "All organizational and individual participants will be expected to be familiar with and comply with the (New Normal) requirements."
The Miami debate _ called a "town hall" because it will allow members of the audience to ask questions _ is expected to be the second face-off between Trump and former Vice President Biden, less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 election.
The Arsht Center will employ a contactless temperature screening process for staff and guests of the commission, delegates, campaign surrogates and members of the media. Anyone entering the facility will also be asked to answer a daily questionnaire to aid in identifying symptoms. Guests will be required to sanitize their hands upon entering the building, and signs will be placed outside and inside elevators to limit capacity to four passengers.
Inside, cleaning protocols will be ramped up and staff will regularly disinfect common areas and frequent touch points, such as in bathrooms, which will be cleaned every two to three hours. Hand sanitizer will be installed at entry points and throughout the Arsht Center facilities.
If a member of the Arsht Center staff tests positive for COVID-19, all other staff members that were in contact with the positive employee will be tested and cleared by a medical professional before returning to the center.
The number of members from the media permitted to work in the Knight Concert Hall will also be reduced. Everyone will have to practice social distancing and wear face coverings.
According to the approved plan, demonstrators will also be allowed to protest in a designated free speech zone, which will be subject to City of Miami permitting and police oversight.
The commission is working with the Cleveland Clinic, which is serving as the health security adviser for all four 2020 general election debates, to develop more detailed instructions involving movement of debate participants and invited guests and additional health guidelines, which will be reviewed by the Arsht Center and a local medical official from the Miami-Dade community, according to the plan.
Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and David Smiley contributed to this report.