The first three Democrat presidential debates held this year – on Jan. 14, Feb. 7, and Feb. 19 – contained a single, passing reference to the coronavirus outbreak that had emerged in China weeks earlier and was starting to spread.
That sole reference came from former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, during the Feb. 7 debate in Manchester, N.H., who said, “The next president is going to face challenges from global health security, like what we’re seeing coming out of China.”
None of the other candidates raised the issue, and neither did the ABC News moderators. The word “coronavirus” was not mentioned. (Neither was “COVID-19,” although the World Health Organization only came up with that name for the disease on Feb. 11.)
Apart from Buttigieg’s comment, China did come up during the Feb. 7 debate, but in the context of climate change (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar) and its mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs (Sanders).
By Feb. 7, China was reporting more than 34,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 700 deaths, while 288 cases were reported in 24 other countries – including 12 in the United States – along with the first death outside China, in the Philippines.
That debate came five days after U.S. travel restrictions, barring entry to any non-U.S. national who has visited China in the previous 14 days, came into effect. It also came eight days after the WHO had declared the outbreak to be a “public health emergency of international concern.”
A little over a fortnight before the New Hampshire debate, a Democratic presidential debate was held in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 14.
There were no references during that debate to the outbreak in China, although China was mentioned, in relation to trade (Biden, Sanders), North Korea (Biden) and the economic threat (Klobuchar).