WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will resume in-person campaigning on Saturday after being sidelined by a case of COVID-19, but a debate next week against his presidential election opponent Joe Biden was canceled because Trump refused to participate.
Trump will address a crowd of supporters on Saturday from a White House balcony on a “law and order” theme, an administration official said on Friday. A source familiar with the situation said the crowd could be in the hundreds, and all were expected to wear masks.
Then the Republican president will travel on Monday to central Florida, a state crucial to his hopes of winning a second term in the Nov. 3 election.
He will stage his first campaign rally since his coronavirus diagnosis at an airport in the town of Sanford. The campaign did not disclose if it would be held in a hangar with doors open, as it has in the past, or entirely outside.
As the president prepared to return to the trail, the body that oversees presidential debates said the match-up between Trump and Biden, the Democratic candidate, scheduled for Oct. 15 had been formally canceled.
Trump refused to participate in what was supposed to be the second of three debates with Biden after the Commission on Presidential Debates switched it to a virtual contest in the wake of the president’s illness.
The final debate on Oct. 22 is still set to take place.
Questions remain about whether Trump, who announced on Oct. 2 he had the virus and spent three nights in a military hospital, is still contagious. Trump told Fox News he was likely to be tested for the virus on Friday.
The illness has kept him from holding public rallies and attending fundraisers at a critical juncture of the campaign. He trails Biden in opinion polls with just weeks to go before the election.
Attendees at the Florida rally will be given a temperature check, masks that they will be encouraged to wear and access to hand sanitizer, the campaign said.
Biden sharply criticized Trump’s decision to resume campaigning. “Good luck. I wouldn’t show up unless you have a mask and can distance,” he told reporters in Paradise, Nevada.
Trump and his administration have faced criticism for their handling of the pandemic, as well as for a lax approach to mask-wearing and social distancing in the White House and – in recent days – confusing messages about how ill the president has been.
At least 11 people who attended a White House event on Sept. 26 where Trump announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have since tested positive.
Dr. Anthony Fauci,