Can Plexiglass Protect the Candidates?

There are several good ways to protect Harris and Pence. Scientists doubt a see-through barrier is one of them.

Robert Roy Britt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readOct 6, 2020

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Image: Commission on Presidential Debates

When vice-presidential candidates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris square off for their first debate Wednesday in Salt Lake City, they’ll reportedly be separated by plexiglass, set up as a proposed layer of protection against any possible Covid-19 infections.

The decision by the Commission on Presidential Debates appears to have settled a pre-debate debate.

Harris’s team requested the see-through barrier, in part due to the fact that Pence was potentially exposed to the coronavirus during the outbreak at the White House, thought to originate at the ceremony for Supreme Court nominee September 26, 11 days before the scheduled debate. Though several people in the White House have since tested positive for Covid-19, Pence has, as of the latest reports, tested negative. Pence’s team resisted the plexiglass idea, calling it medically unnecessary.

Politics aside, could a pane of transparent plastic help?

Probably not so much, scientists say, unless the barriers were hermetically sealed boxes. But, as we see now, they are not:

The reasons why these barriers won’t be effective offer a lesson in layered coronavirus protection.

Pence and Harris will be 12 feet, 3 inches apart — 5 inches less than the separation in the presidential debate. The candidates will also each be 12 feet, 3 inches from the moderator, Susan Page. The candidates will not be required to wear masks.

These barriers could stop some heavy droplets from an uncontrolled sneeze or cough, but it would not be effective against smaller respiratory droplets that they’ll be spewing out just by talking (or shouting?) for 90 minutes.

The coronavirus can spread through the air from an infected person, suspended in the smallest respiratory droplets called aerosols. Such…

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Robert Roy Britt
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB