Trump, Biden final arguments at opposite ends on COVID-19
President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are offering opposing visions of responding to the coronavirus crisis as a new wave of cases mounts just ahead of Election Day.
Biden warned of a “dark winter” at Thursday night’s debate as new cases in the United States near a record high and hospitalizations rise again.
Despite this worsening outlook, Trump struck an optimistic message, saying the virus is “going away” and the country is “rounding the turn.”
Biden is hammering Trump over his response to the virus, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans so far. The country is now averaging about 60,000 cases per day, a number that is rising as the weather gets colder. Hospitalizations, after falling in the late summer, are now rising again too.
The former vice president immediately followed up the debate with a speech on responding to the pandemic on Friday.
“He’s given up, he’s quit on you, he’s quit on your family,” Biden said of Trump. “We don’t have to be held prisoner by this administration’s failures.”
Biden and Trump diverge not just on their outlooks, but in how forcefully they would marshal the powers of the federal government.
Biden is calling for new investments in rapid tests that can be done at home and called for a seven-fold increase in testing on Friday. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the need for more testing and blamed testing for showing the country has more cases.
Biden says he will urge every governor to impose a mask mandate and encourages their use, while Trump has repeatedly mocked masks and rarely worn one himself. A study published in the journal Nature Medicine on Friday estimated that 130,000 lives could be saved through the end of February if everyone wore a mask.
On Friday, Trump was surrounded in the Oval Office by dozens of people, almost all maskless, for an event on Sudan launching into new relations with Israel.
Biden is calling for “evidence-based national guidance” on when schools and businesses should open or close, depending on the level of virus circulating in an area.
Trump, in contrast, says “we have to open our country” and has gone on the attack against Biden for being open to further lockdowns.
Pressed on that issue at the debate, Biden said, “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” while leaving open the possibility of future closures of high-risk businesses like bars and gyms, places that experts have identified as significant sources of spread.
Sensing the Republican attacks, Biden emphasized again on Friday: “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus.”
A range of leading scientific journals have taken the unprecedented step of weighing into politics to endorse Biden, saying Trump’s response to the virus has failed. The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, pointed to failures to ramp up testing and protective equipment for health workers, writing “our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent.”
Trump is now trying to express optimism by pointing to a coming vaccine. Progress on developing a vaccine has indeed advanced at an unprecedented pace, and there are multiple candidates now in the final stage of clinical trials. A vaccine could potentially be available to certain high-risk groups like the elderly by the end of the year, but it will be several months into 2021 before the general public has access to one, according to an array of varying estimates.
Doctors have also gotten better at treating coronavirus patients, and there are a range of new treatments that were not available in the early days, such as remdesivir, dexamethasone, and potentially new antibody treatments in the coming weeks.
Republicans think they have an opening in warning that Biden is open to further business closures, noting that many people are tired of precautions to deal with the virus.
“Optimism is more powerful in voters’ minds than pessimism, and frankly people are restless,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.
Democrats say that if Trump had been able to get the virus under control, it would be better for both the health and economic crises.
“There’s no question there is fatigue, but that’s because we didn’t do it right from the get-go, because we didn’t have a plan, because we weren’t clear with the American people and because the president did not follow the science,” Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a former secretary of Health and Human Services, said on a call with reporters on Friday.
Biden has a 12-point lead on handling of the virus in a New York Times-Siena College poll released Tuesday, with 52 percent of likely voters saying they trust him more on the issue, compared to 40 percent who said they trust Trump more.
A majority, 51 percent, also said the worst of the pandemic is “still to come,” compared to 37 percent who said the worst is over.
Trump has also attacked his own administration’s top infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, in recent days, calling him a “disaster.”
Trump is increasingly relying instead on Scott Atlas, a Stanford University radiologist with no background in infectious diseases. Trump and Atlas are calling for protecting vulnerable populations like the elderly, while allowing everyone else to go about their normal lives, a strategy that most mainstream experts say is doomed to failure given that the only reliable way to prevent vulnerable people from getting the virus is to slow its spread among everyone.
Biden says he will listen to Fauci and other experts. “I believe in science,” Biden said Friday.
Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the country is facing a bleak outlook heading into winter.
“We had an opportunity in the summer to use and leverage the decreased transmission of the virus during the summer months to prepare for the fall; we didn’t do that at all,” he said. “This is how viruses like this work. We have failed to believe that, as a federal government and down.”
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