Democratic debate: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden bump elbows, talk social distancing during COVID-19 outbreak

WASHINGTON -- During Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders said they're both in good health and leading by example when it comes to social distancing and other recommendations from health officials aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The candidates opened the debate by forgoing a handshake, opting instead to bump elbows to cut down on person-to-person contact. Debate producer CNN placed the two candidates' podiums 6 feet apart to adhere to social-distancing guidelines from health authorities.

"It's unusual, to say the least," 77-year-old Biden said of the stage layout. He and 78-year-old Sanders are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus due to their age, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

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Asked what they are doing to protect themselves from the virus, Sanders said he was doing a "great deal," including holding virtual campaign events in place of in-person rallies and advising campaign staff to work from home.

"On a personal level, I'm not shaking hands...and I am very careful about the people I am interacting with. I'm using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers to make sure that I do not get the infection," Sanders said.

The Vermont senator added: "Thank God right now I do not have any symptoms and I feel very grateful for that."

Asked the same question, Biden explained that he, too, is in good health and said he is "taking any of the precautions anyone would take whether they are 30 years old or 60 years old or 80 years old."

Biden went on to say he is not shaking hands or going out into crowds and has instructed his staff to work from home and hold campaign events online.

"I wash my hands God knows how many times a day with hot water and soap I carry with me...Hand sanitizer, I don't know how many times a day I use that," Biden added. "I make sure I don't touch my face. I'm taking all the precautions they've told everyone else to take."

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The debate was originally slated to be held in Arizona. As many other television productions have done, debate organizers scrapped plans to have a studio audience in Arizona before eventually relocating the broadcast to CNN's Washington studios.

The CDC is advising Americans to wash their hands thoroughly and often, abstain from touching their face with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with those who are sick and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily. The agency issued additional updated guidance just minutes before the debate started that advised Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks.

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