By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – The highly contagious coronavirus currently making its way around the world had its first impact on the 2020 U.S. election campaign as Washington state Democrats canceled an upcoming weekend fundraiser just days before the party primary there.

The liberal northwest state, the second-biggest prize when six states host nominating contests on March 10, postponed a party awards dinner planned for Saturday night after Governor Jay Inslee warned against large public gatherings in the state, where the fast-spreading disease has so far killed 10 people.

It was the first concrete sign of the coronavirus taking a toll on the state-by-state process that will pick a Democrat to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November.

“We take this public health emergency seriously and urge everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of this virus,” the Washington State Democrats said in a statement Tuesday.

Rooms packed with supporters as politicians shake hands with hundreds of voters present ripe conditions for virus transmission, public health officials warn.

“This is something that politicians should be no strangers to, because they do have these mass gatherings and shake a lot of hands and kiss a lot of babies,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“Maybe less of the baby-kissing is warranted.”

The virus, which first erupted in China, has sickened more than 94,000 people globally and killed 3,220.

On Wednesday, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington said health concerns may cause her to pull out of weekend campaign events for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden are locked in a battle to win the party’s nomination.

“I’m worried about it,” Jayapal told the Wall Street Journal.

“You know, we’re early and we’re the epicenter of this,” she told the newspaper. “Other states are going to start seeing, as we saw with New York, once they start testing, they will start seeing some of this as well.”

Democratic chair Tom Perez said his team had spoken with federal health officials about how to protect participants in the party’s national convention in Milwaukee in July.

“We’ll wait and see but we’re having these conversations right now with federal officials,” Perez said on CNN. “We will be prepared.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)

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