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U of U focuses on safety, student engagement ahead of VP Debate

Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 20:27:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time ever, the University of Utah will host the Vice Presidential Debate Wednesday.

“When we heard the University of Utah was selected, we weren’t actually surprised, but we were elated,” said Karen Hale, co-chair of the Utah Debate Commission.

The university was selected to be the host more than a year ago, before anyone knew that COVID-19 was on the horizon. The university is working closely with medical teams from University of Utah Health to ensure safety is at the forefront of the debate, U of U spokesman Shawn Wood said.

“We’ve had to reduce the number of student volunteers, we had to reduce the number of tickets inside the Kingsbury Hall,” he said.

Masks and social distancing will be required at the debate and events leading up to it, as well as additional precautions. Everyone who will have access to the perimeter is required to have a negative COVID-19 test the day before and of the debate, as well as self-isolate. In addition, students are online learning this week as part of a pre-planned ‘circuit breaker’ to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We think we can do this in as safe a way as possible to make sure we are not the cause of a spread,” Wood said.

Last week, more than 4,000 U of U students entered a raffle for tickets to the debate. On Monday, 60 students and five alternates were chosen. Students are able to get involved in other ways such as volunteering, and the university is offering many swag giveaways, a virtual watch party and games to keep students engaged.

Being chosen as a volunteer is something Sheely Edwards said she never imagined would happen.

“This is an event of national significance. It’s one thing to help with a local debate, but to help out with a vice presidential debate is a whole other level,” she said.

The excitement of volunteering is something that will take a long time to wear off.

“This event certainly is historic, and I am excited that I get to put even just a few hours of my time into helping with it,” Edwards said.

The most exciting thing is to get to hear the candidates' stance and opinion on some of the most important topics to college students — such as climate change and the affordability of college, Edwards said.

“I am especially interested to hear what they see as the future in terms of addressing coronavirus,” she said.

Hosting the VP debate at the college will have a positive impact on young voters across Utah, Hale said.

“The decisions made by our elected leaders effect all of us, and for young people to have a voice in who represents them is essential,” she said.

The VP debate will be Wednesday night. FOX 13 News will show the event live on the air and online, as well as team coverage.