President Donald Trump’s infection with COVID-19 has dramatically raised the stakes for the sole 2020 vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, which will take place at 9 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

At 11 p.m. EST, join The Real News for a live debate recap with the Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell and Real News climate reporter Steve Horn, and join us on twitter #RNdebate.

Moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, the debate will be split into nine 10-minute sections. Page has not released the topics ahead of time, but the questions are expected to focus on COVID-19, the country’s economic recovery, the Supreme Court, election integrity, and protests against racism.

Joe Biden, 77, has thus far tested negative for COVID-19, amid fears he could have been exposed to the virus by president Trump on the stage of the first presidential debate. After four days of hospitalization, a still-contagious Trump, 74, was released from Walter Reed Medical Center on Oct. 5, and afterwards, appeared at the White House maskless, downplaying the virus’s danger and falsely comparing it the flu, even though as far back as February, Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that COVID-19 is far “more deadly” than the flu.

The candidates will now be 13 feet apart on stage, and Pence, who thus far says he has tested negative, ridiculed Harris’ campaign’s demand to erect a plexiglass barrier between the two candidates.

“If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” a Pence spokesperson told Politico. 

Pence was likely exposed to the virus at the Sept. 26 White House reception for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Attendees there did not wear masks and were captured on camera hugging and shaking hands at what appears to be the ‘superspreader’ event behind the outbreak that has reached the highest echelons of the GOP. Numerous people who attended the event have tested positive for COVID-19, and the virus’s two week incubation period means that number could grow. 

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On Tuesday, Trump Senior Advisor Stephen Miller became the latest White House official who helped Trump prepare for his debate to test positive for COVID-19.  A GOP spokesperson said at least 123 frontline Capitol Hill workers have tested positive, or are presumed positive, Roll Call reported. Seven top military officials have reportedly quarantined after exposure.

As head of the coronavirus task force, Mike Pence helped publicly downplay the risk of the virus while privately acknowledging its danger. The Trump administration has questioned the importance of mask use, and this summer, Pence falsely claimed virus spikes were the result of increased testing. The task force has been used to push dangerous and untested cures for COVID-19, including injecting bleach. “The President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic,’” the authors of a new Cornell University study found.

Amid this outbreak, Republicans continue to attempt to ram through Barrett’s nomination, even as three senators have tested positive for COVID-19. Pence, who serves as the president of the Senate, could cast the tie-breaking vote, as he did to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

If Barrett is confirmed she could be the deciding vote in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act being heard by the Supreme Court on Nov. 10. If the ACA is struck down, 22 million could lose healthcare, preexisting conditions would no longer have to be covered, and care for tens of millions enrolled in Medicaid expansion could also be disrupted. Barrett could also vote to strike down Roe v. Wade, a top priority for religious conservatives like Pence, who has previously argued it should be overturned.

Harris has opposed Barrett’s nomination to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Judge Barrett has a long record of opposing abortion and reproductive rights,” Harris said. “There is no other issue that so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg’s life than undoing the seminal decision in the court’s history that made it clear a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates has promised changes to the debate format after Trump’s constant interruptions made the first debate nearly unwatchable. Green and Libertarian Party candidates will not be included in the debates after failing to reach the 15% polling threshold established by the commission, which the third parties called “exclusionary.”

On Tuesday the stock market tanked after Trump announced he’s blocking the approval of a new economic stimulus until after the election. In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which would have provided billions of dollars for testing, housing assistance and funds to reopen schools safely. One in four families is struggling to pay rent. A grassroots campaign is urging debate moderator Page to ask questions about the extreme housing crisis.

“It’s horribly unjust that millions of people are not only at risk of losing their lives during this pandemic, but also needlessly at risk of losing their homes and access to basic necessities,” Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability told The Real News. “We do not need more corporate bailouts. We need just and equitable relief for the people, including a moratorium on utility shutoffs.”