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Belmont discusses heightened security, health precautions for debate week

Belmont is less than a week away from hosting the final presidential debate — and the university is teaming up with everyone from Metro Public Health to the United States Secret Service to make it happen.

In a press conference Friday morning, university President Dr. Bob Fisher was joined by a group of local city officials, HCA President of Clinical Services Dr. Jonathan Perlin and Special Agent William Hudson, who leads the U.S. Secret Service Nashville Field Office, to discuss the debate — as well as how they’re ensuring it will be safe.

A huge part of that is accounting for the threat of COVID-19 — especially since the number of cases in Nashville has recently increased, said Nashville Public Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell.

“My staff and I have had several meetings and walkthroughs with our partners at Belmont,” Caldwell said. “We all feel confident that the protocols that are in place leading up to, during and after this historic event will ensure that participants will be safe on this site.”

Caldwell said the protocols in place would include regular temperature and health checks, mask requirements and enforced social distancing for everyone involved with preparing the debate.

Belmont and Metro Public Health are also working with HCA Healthcare, which has the volunteer help of local doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to help meet the needs of everyone helping set the debate stage — a group including well over 1,000 people.

Another facet of preparation will involve heightened security — which means road closures, an increased police presence and the involvement of Secret Service agents around Belmont’s campus.

Metro Police Interim Chief John Drake said over 700 Metro police officers will be involved to lead motorcades and secure the impacted roads on Wednesday and Thursday.

“There will be two separate motorcades; they’ll be led by officers, there’ll be minimal disruption to traffic,” said Drake. “As required for the candidates, we have to have road closures to get them in and out. But those will be very minimal.”

The list of debate-related road closures can be found here — and all impacted roads will reopen before rush hour Friday, Drake said.

As for the campus itself, it will be closed to anyone not credentialed to attend the debate, and enclosed by temporary fencing.

Metro Police and the Secret Service will be aided by Belmont Campus Security, as well as the Nashville Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management, in preparing for any emergencies that may result.

“I believe our plan is strong,” said Drake. “We’re excited — and I think we’re ready for this event.”

Among the city officials who spoke at the conference was Mayor John Cooper, who commended the efforts of everyone involved, saying Belmont is taking part in something great.

“Belmont and the city of Nashville have set the stage for an enlightening and formative conversation, and one that will be worthy of the American people,” said Cooper.

Cooper was around when Belmont took part in a similarly historic event in 2008, when it hosted a debate between soon-to-be President Barack Obama and then Senator John McCain.

Belmont affirmed its presence in Nashville with that debate — and Cooper is excited to see that happen again, he said.

“Belmont’s got strong leadership,” said Cooper. “Even yesterday, in the middle of COVID, you were having an announcement about a medical school, and a presidential debate — it has an amazing amount of momentum.”

“But it also has a special relationship with Nashville, and Tennessee … it’s an emblematic institution for our city, our state and its strength.”

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