Sen. Bernie Sanders seemed to suggest Sunday that this week’s Democratic presidential primaries should be postponed for safety reasons amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
In a post-debate interview on CNN, Sanders, I-Vt., pointed to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people over the next eight weeks as the country grapples with the highly contagious COVID-19.
“I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts and what they are saying is … we don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people,” Sanders said late Sunday when asked about Tuesday's contests. “I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people and doing all that stuff. Does that make sense? I’m not sure it does.”
The next round of contests is scheduled Tuesday in Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Ohio. While some states are either considering postponing primaries or have already decided to do so, officials responsible for this week's contests have shown little inclination to delay -- instead stressing safety precautions in place.
"[W]e are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe," secretaries of state for those elections said in a recent statement.
Based on the latest polling data, Sanders could be in for a tough night of primaries should the vote go forward as planned.
According to the RealClearPolitics average for the Florida primary, Sanders is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden badly — with 22.6 percent of Floridians supporting the self-described democratic socialist to Biden’s 65.4 percent. The RealClearPolitics average shows Biden also leading with 49 percent of the vote in Arizona, to Sanders’ 27.3 percent.
Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield, during a call with reporters Sunday night after the CNN/Univision-hosted debate, was asked about Sanders’ comments but wouldn’t weigh in on whether Tuesday’s contests should be postponed.
Instead, Bedingfield repeatedly stressed that the campaign “encourages everybody to follow the guidance of public health officials and public officials in their states.”
“We believe that we can uphold the values of our democracy while protecting public health,” she said.
The back-and-forth over whether Tuesday’s contests will take place comes after Louisiana moved to postpone their primary, originally scheduled for April 4. That contest has been postponed to June 20, amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19.
Georgia followed suit, over the weekend announcing that the state’s March 24 primary would be postponed to May 19.
COVID-19 was designated by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic last week.
President Trump announced a national emergency on Friday. The president also announced a temporary halt on air travel to the United States from Europe, now including flights from the United Kingdom, but excluding those carrying cargo.
The announcement came as major sporting and other events were called off or postponed, businesses across the country instituted telework policies, government buildings and schools shuttered and other disruptions rocked the nation, amid efforts to curb the transmission of the virus.
The Federal Reserve also slashed interest rates to near zero and said it would buy $700 billion in Treasury securities in an aggressive step to insulate the U.S. economy from the pandemic.
The outbreak is believed to have originated at an animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan, China.
As of Monday morning, there were more than 3,700 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, in 49 states, including Washington, D.C. The U.S., so far, has seen 68 coronavirus-related deaths.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
According to WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Fox News' Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.