Kuntzman: What to learn from CWRU and Cleveland Clinic’s failure to enforce safety protocol

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Columnist

On Oct. 2, President Donald Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 and that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, would begin their “quarantine and recovery process immediately.” Trump’s announcement came three days after the first presidential debate, held in Cleveland, where neither he nor Melania wore masks. Moreover, debate moderator Chris Wallace reported that Trump and his campaign staff were not tested for the coronavirus prior to their arrival to the debate hall. 

The Cleveland Clinic enacted safety and health measures, such as requiring attendees to wear masks, social distancing and testing negative for coronavirus prior to the event, but failed to enforce them in any way as evident by Trump’s lack of test. While Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University are not entirely responsible—as each respective campaign was responsible for obtaining testing for their staff—the fact that Trump was allowed on stage without passing a test is concerning. 

Additionally, other members of the Trump family, including Tiffany, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., did not wear masks while seated at the debate. According to NBC news, a Cleveland Clinic doctor brought them masks and requested they wear them, but the Trumps did not comply.  

The doctor’s efforts to make the Trumps wear masks does demonstrate an attempt by the events’ co-hosts to enforce debate policies; however, their response did not result in compliance or mitigate the risk associated with non-compliance, and therefore was inadequate. 

The first and most inherent problem with the risk management was the lack of complete testing—posing a risk to everyone in attendance. The Trump campaign is largely to blame for this because they failed to test their staff, but they were also allowed to enter the debate stage without submitting evidence that they had tested negative. Wallace described the Cleveland Clinic’s testing plan as based on the “honor system.” In an ideal world, that would be enough to ensure a safe debate, but given the president’s history of ignoring safety precautions for the coronavirus, it was dangerous to assume that his campaign would comply with these measures without additional accountability. 

Furthermore, the first lady and the president’s children were allowed to remain in the debate hall after refusing to wear masks. If the hosts weren’t prepared or able to remove individuals from the debate who failed to follow the debate’s rules, they should not have hosted the debate. The president’s family is not above the law and should have been held accountable for following the same rules as other guests. If they were not willing to follow the rules, they should not have been allowed to stay, for it endangered the health and safety of all other attendees.

If any more debates are to be held in person for the remainder of the election cycle, their hosts must be prepared to do more in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They should either require and enforce that the candidates be tested by their staff, or mandate that the campaigns submit documentation that all of their members who will be present have tested negative. If a venue is not prepared or able to bar or remove any attendee who does not follow the safety protocol, they should not proceed with hosting an in-person debate. 

As last week’s debate demonstrated, having rules in place is not enough to ensure that the coronavirus is not transmitted. These rules must be effectively enforced in order for them to effectively minimize the health hazard inherently posed by an in-person debate.

The best course of action for the upcoming debates would be to move them online. This would eliminate the risk of the coronavirus spreading presented by having in-person debates. It would relieve venues from having to navigate the challenges of enforcing safety protocols and it would still work if Trump is well enough to debate but still contagious by the date of the next debate, Oct. 15. 

Furthermore, moving the debate online could address the other debate rules that were not followed during the first debate. Counts for how many times Trump interrupted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden or Wallace vary, but Wallace claims he and Biden were interrupted 145 times. Using a platform such as Zoom that enables the host to mute participants could eliminate this problem and lead to more productive debate.