Coronavirus and the 2020 campaigns: Pandemic altering 2020 election in fundamental ways

Here's a roundup of how the virus is impacting the election cycle.

ByABC News
March 12, 2020, 7:00 PM

The unprecedented nature of the rapid spread of the coronavirus has, in many ways, fundamentally altered the current phase of the 2020 election cycle.

So far, at least 1,323 cases of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been confirmed in the United States Thursday as more events are canceled across the country. Thirty-eight people have died in the U.S.

The U.S. now has the eighth-highest number of cases worldwide.

Tune into ABC News Live at noon ET every weekday for the latest news, context and analysis on the novel coronavirus, with the full ABC News team where we will try to answer your questions about the virus.

For some of the 2020 candidates, the pandemic has meant canceling events, hosting "virtual" versions of others, and a host of other changes. For other candidates, events continue as planned as they consult with public health officials.

Here's how the election cycle is rapidly changing.

Upcoming Dem debate moved from Phoenix to DC

The Sunday night Democratic debate – the first to feature former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders head-to-head – will now move from Arizona to CNN's studios in Washington, DC.

The debate will be held at CNN's studio and will not have a live audience.

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos has decided to no longer moderate the debate because he said he was "in proximity with someone who was in direct contact with a person that tested positive for coronavirus," the DNC added.

"Ramos and the person he was in contact with are in good health and symptom free," the DNC said.

PHOTO: Anchor Jorge Ramos
Anchor Jorge Ramos
ABC News

Ramos was cleared by medical professionals but made the decision "out of an abundance of caution," the DNC said.

Trump reelection now shifts to "virtual events" following ABC News report

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus threat and fears of the virus spreading in the U.S., and as President Trump has temporarily canceled campaign events, his campaign and the Republican National Committee is now shifting all current events on the schedule to virtual, RNC officials tell ABC News.

Details of how the RNC plans to shift events online were not immediately available.

The move came late Thursday following the publication of an ABC News report detailing hundreds of events that were staled to take place starting on Friday. Trump's behemoth ground operation, a joint effort between the RNC and the campaign named Trump Victory, had planned an in-person "national week of training," with events across the U.S., including in states that have declared a state of emergency -- such as Florida and Colorado.

His robust reelection ground operation has planned to hold nearly 500 events across the country starting Friday.

Trump's behemoth ground operation, which is a joint effort between the Republican National Committee and the campaign (Trump Victory), had planned "national week of training" set to begin Friday with events taking place across the country (including states heavily impacted by the virus) —and as of now, the campaign events are moving forward as normal, two Republican sources tell ABC News.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, March 12, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, March 12, 2020, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

Between March 13-19, Trump Victory had around 470 events stretched across dozens of states as the campaign turns toward the general election and ramps up its ground game effort.

What to know about Coronavirus:

Many of the events on schedule were Trump Victory Leadership Trainings, which usually feature between 100-200 people looking to become campaign volunteers on the ground in their state. Sometimes the trainings are much larger however.

The official campaign account was promoting the nation-wide events on Twitter less than 24 hours ago.

The Trump Victory team had a heat map up online showing all of the events across the country.

In other ways, the candidates do appear to be altering the way they campaign.

Wednesday evening, during an Oval Office address, Trump emphasized making the effort to specifically protect older Americans by avoiding non-essential travel in crowded areas and avoiding all medically unnecessary trips to nursing homes.

Following the White House's lead, the Trump campaign announced on Twitter it is "postponing" next week's Catholics for Trump event in Milwaukee that was set to feature President Trump.

The Trump campaign has postponed its "Women for Trump" bus tour that was set to kick off Monday in Michigan featuring top surrogates including Mercedes Schlapp, whose husband is the CPAC chairman-- a conservative conference where at least one attendee has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Trump campaign confirmed to ABC News.

Biden campaign staff to telework, former VP lays out proposal on dealing with coronavirus

In a new memo circulated internally by the leadership of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, all campaign employees in both the Philadelphia headquarters and field offices across the country are being instructed to work from home starting this Saturday, due to growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

“Starting Saturday, March 14, all Biden for President employees both in our Philadelphia headquarters and in field offices across the country will work from home. Department heads will be in touch with teams about tele-work processes and operations,” according to a memo obtained by ABC News.

The memo said these policies will be in effect for the next two weeks, after which the campaign will reassess the situation. The changes were announced after consulting with the experts on their newly announced public health advisory committee--which they say they will continue to do throughout the two weeks.

All staff currently in states will be given the option of returning to their permanent residences, or will be provided housing paid for by the campaign in “Work from Home,” remote office pods across the country. Additionally, all Biden for President offices - including headquarters and field offices - will be closed to the public.

The memo also provided an update on plans for traveling and campaigning going forward, saying that so long as public guidance does not change, the campaign will continue to hold “smaller events,” though fundraisers would become virtual in nature indefinitely.

The move came shortly after Biden laid out the need Thursday to combat the growing threat of the coronavirus and excoriated the Trump administration for its "severe shortcomings," in handling the crisis.

"Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current administration. Public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this president. Fueled by adversarial relationships with the truth that he continues to have," Biden said in a speech Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware.

His proposal includes:" the wide availability of free testing, emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak, mounting an effective national emergency response and rallying the world to confront this crisis"Biden's campaign announced Wednesday it will be hosting “virtual events” in place of events on the ground in Illinois and Florida.

PHOTO: Former Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus, during a press event in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020.
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus, during a press event in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The campaign is also set to announce a committee aimed at advising the campaign on the health risks during this election cycle to the candidate, staff and supporters.

“The campaign’s top priority is and will continue to be the health and safety of the public," the campaign said in a statement. "Members of the committee will provide ongoing counsel to the campaign, which will in turn continue to update the public regarding operational decisions.”

Sanders campaign staffers to telework, senator to stay in DC after the debate

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign has also asked all staffers to work from home.

“In light of concerns about coronavirus and out of an abundance of caution for our staff, volunteers and supporters, the Sanders campaign has asked all staff to work from home and will no longer hold large events or door-to-door canvasses, instead moving to digital formats and outreach wherever possible," Sanders Communications Director Mike Casca said in a statement to ABC News.

Sanders in remarks from Burlington, Vermont Thursday afternoon underscoring “the health and economic crisis facing this country.”

"We also have to face the truth and that is that the number of casualties may actually be even higher than what the Armed Forces experienced in World War II," he claimed. "In other words, we have a major, major crisis and we must act accordingly. "

"It is a absolute moral imperative that our response as a government, as a society, as a business community, and as individual citizens meet the enormity of this crisis," Sanders said.

"We are dealing with a national emergency and the president of the United States must understand that and declare that emergency," he continued.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters as he leaves a campaign rally in Grant Park, March 7, 2020 in Chicago.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters as he leaves a campaign rally in Grant Park, March 7, 2020 in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

Sanders' suggestions also included: convening an emergency bipartisan authority of experts, Congress working in a bipartisan manner to address the crisis, assistance to provide food to low income residents impacted by the crisis and encouraging the the public sector and the private-sector to work together.

"Under our proposal everyone who loses a job must qualify for unemployment compensation at least 100 percent of their prior salary with a cap of $1150 dollars a week or $60,000 dollars a year," he said.

Jane Sanders, his wife, told reporters that the senator will stay in Washington, DC after the debate and will return to work in the Senate amid the crisis.

Sanders has previously indicated that coronavirus is being considered as the campaign plans large rallies and noted that the campaign has checked in with public health officials in Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., prior to rallies. His campaign has upcoming planned office openings in Pennsylvania and a campaign-sponsored event in the Tampa, Florida area.

Both Biden and Sanders canceled rallies in Cleveland, Ohio Tuesday night.

ABC News' Averi Harper, Molly Nagle and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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