CNN Nixes Live Audience for Democratic Debate Over Coronavirus Concerns

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Bernie Sanders (left) and Joe Biden

A room for press covering the debate and the cable network's "spin room" will also be eliminated from the network's debate on Sunday to protect "the safety of our employees and community members."

CNN has become the latest organization to reorganize its events amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

On the heels of the announcement that Coachella and Stagecoach were being postponed due to the disease, the news cable network said Tuesday that it was removing a live audience from its upcoming Democratic debate on Sunday in Phoenix.

"CNN's top priority is the safety of our employees and community members. This extends to guests planning to attend or cover our debate on March 15. At the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to eliminate the live audience, the press filing center and the spin room in Phoenix," the network said in a statement. "We encourage you to tune in to the debate at 8 pm ET."

In her own statement about the decision, Democratic National Committee communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said, "DNC has been in regular communication with local health officials and the [Phoenix] mayor's office, which advised that we could proceed as planned. Nevertheless, our number one priority has and will continue to be the safety of our staff, campaigns, Arizonans and all those involved in the debate. We will continue to remain in daily contact with all stakeholders through Sunday."

Arizona's primary is scheduled for March 17.

CNN's decision follows recent safety measures taken by the campaigns for the Democratic nomination, led by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Earlier on Tuesday, Biden and Sanders both canceled rallies in Ohio, whose primary is also March 17, over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The Massachusetts Democratic Party also temporarily suspended caucuses in light of the virus' expansion on the East Coast.

Other television programs have removed live audiences in recent weeks: Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and The Wendy Williams Show have all started taping without an audience.