ROMULUS, Michigan — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden canceled their election night rallies in Cleveland at the last minute Tuesday over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
The Sanders campaign said that all future campaign events would “be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.” Biden’s campaign said they would “continue to consult with public health officials” on future events.
“Out of concern for public health and safety, we are canceling tonight’s rally in Cleveland,” Sanders communications director Mike Casca told reporters late on Tuesday afternoon, hours before he was scheduled to board a plane for a 7:30 p.m. rally in Cleveland.
“We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak. Sen. Sanders would like to express his regret to the thousands of Ohioans who had planned to attend the event tonight,” Casca said in a statement.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said earlier Tuesday that he would recommend Ohioans avoid events with large crowds, after announcing three confirmed cases of COVID-19. DeWine asked that, among other things, indoor athletic events across the state proceed without spectators. The recommendation to stay away from big public events would include political rallies, DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said. But DeWine stopped short of calling on Sanders or Biden to cancel their planned events in Cleveland, citing First Amendment issues.
Casca told reporters at an airport here outside Detroit that the candidate made the decision to cancel his event after seeing DeWine’s public guidance about spectators at athletic events.
"We’re gonna continue to listen to health officials in the areas where we’re supposed to go,” he said of campaign events going forward. Sanders plans to take off for his home of Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday evening, Casca said. Biden's campaign told reporters he would fly to speak to reporters in Philadelphia later in the night.
The Sanders campaign said they had heard no new guidance on whether Sunday’s CNN debate between Sanders and Biden in Arizona would be affected by the growing outbreak.
Over the last two weeks, as the virus has spread across the US, Sanders has held rallies before tens of thousands of people, including in states with active cases of COVID-19, such as California.
Six states will vote in Tuesday’s primary contests, marking a crucial point for the Sanders campaign’s quest to catch up to Biden in what he’s been casting as a two-person race with a stark policy contrast.
At an event in Detroit on Monday, Biden aides greeted attendees with squirts of hand sanitizer. That same afternoon, Sanders held a policy discussion on the issue of COVID-19.
“All future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” Casca said in his statement.
Sanders, a 78-year-old with an underlying health condition, is considered to be at risk according to guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control. Biden is also at risk, at 77 years old.
Sanders has been reticent to discuss what precautions he is taking, if any, to protect his health, at times addressing the subject glibly. "I am running for president of the United States and that requires a whole lot of work," Sanders said at his coronavirus event on Monday.
Later that night, he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “I have used more hand sanitizer in the last two weeks than I’ve used in my entire life.”
On Tuesday, during a visit to a polling site in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, where supporters were gathered to greet him, Sanders did not shake many hands, but he did give a few hugs, grip one woman’s shoulder, and exchange fist bumps.
“We take this issue, unlike the president,” he said of Donald Trump, “very, very seriously.”
Biden’s events in recent days have been noticeably shorter and he has spent less time shaking hands afterward on the rope lines. He told NBC News this week that his campaign would “follow the recommendations of the experts" and suggested he would cancel rallies if need be.