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Trump, Biden clash over coronavirus response, mounting death toll

President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears MORE had an extended clash over the response to the coronavirus in Thursday’s debate, with Biden pointing to the mounting death toll and Trump saying the country cannot remain closed down.

Biden pointed to the 220,000 Americans who have died so far to argue that Trump’s response to the disease has failed, while warning that another 200,000 people could die.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said.

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“Even today he thinks we're in control,” he added. “We're about to lose 200,000 more people.”

Trump took a less aggressive tone in the coronavirus section than he did in the first debate, interrupting Biden less, but still expressing confidence in his administration’s response. 

“We have to open up,” Trump said, arguing that businesses cannot stay shut down, while saying the country must “protect our elderly,” a message that has been stressed by one of his top advisers, Scott Atlas, who has called for letting many people return to normal life, while protecting vulnerable people like the elderly.

Many health experts have instead warned that the only way to protect the elderly is to suppress the virus overall.

“We're rounding the corner, it’s going away,” Trump maintained, despite the mounting number of new cases each day nationwide.

He acknowledged that there are “some spikes and surges” but said “they will soon be gone."

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Trump has put much of his emphasis on a vaccine, though experts say one will not be available for the general public until early next year at the earliest.

Biden called for encouraging everyone to wear a mask, investing in rapid testing and setting national standards for when businesses should open or close, depending on the levels of the virus in the community. 

Trump said Biden was being too cautious on opening businesses, and mocked the idea of installing plexiglass barriers at restaurants trying to stay open. “Putting up plexiglass is unbelievably expensive and it’s not the answer. You're going to sit there in a cubicle ramped around with plastic?” he said.

Biden said Trump’s message on schools was essentially: “'All you teachers out there, not that many of you are going to die, so don’t worry about it.' Come on."

Asked about his openness to further lockdowns, Biden said, “I'm going to shut down the virus, not the country,” but left the door open to further closures of businesses like bars and gyms if transmission rates are high enough in an area. Experts have pointed to those businesses as significant sources of spread.

Trump touted his closure of travel from China, a part of his response that he frequently highlights, saying Biden had opposed it as “xenophobic.” Biden shot back that Trump is xenophobic but for other reasons. 

The president was also pressed on his recent comments calling his own administration’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge massive supply increase | Biden health nominee faces first Senate test | White House defends reopening of facility for migrant kids New Yorkers should double mask until at least June, de Blasio says Fauci: Relaxed CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people may be coming 'soon' MORE, a “disaster.”

“I get along very well with Anthony,” Trump maintained. “I think he’s a Democrat, but that’s OK.”

Trump then accused Fauci of having changed his position on issues like wearing a mask. 

Biden said the country needs to step up its response and understand that it could be in for the long haul, in contrast to Trump’s optimistic assertions about the virus going away. 

“There’s not another serious scientist in the world who thinks it’s going to be over soon,” Biden said.