The COVID-19 pandemic figured prominently in the final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden when they met on stage for a 90-minute debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday evening.
The adequacy of the COVID-19 response to date, the likely timeline for vaccine availability, and how to reopen businesses while keeping Americans safe were among the points on which the two candidates disagreed. The two candidates also sparred over the value of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the future of healthcare in the United States.
Trump and Biden also differed on whether or not the country is facing a “dark winter” because of the pandemic.
Moderator Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent, asked Trump to comment on the fact that 40,000 people are in the hospital on debate night with COVID-19 and that 16,000 have died since the last presidential debate.
Trump said, “2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die.” He said COVID-19 is a worldwide disease that does not only affect the United States.
“The mortality rate is down 85%, and the excess mortality is also down,” he added. He pointed out that previous spikes in Florida, Texas, and Arizona are now gone, and “spikes and surges in other places will soon be gone.
“It will go away, we are rounding the corner,” Trump said. “From personal experience, I was in the hospital, I had it, and they gave me a therapeutic, some would call it a cure…and now they say I’m immune. Whether it’s for a month or lifetime, nobody has been able to say that, but I’m immune.”
Biden countered by saying that “220,000 people are dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America.”
Biden said there are a thousand deaths a day now and that there are over 70K new cases per day. “The expectation is we will have another 200,000 people down before the end of this year. If we just all wore these masks, we could save 100,000.”
“The New England Journal of Medicine said the way the president has handled this is absolutely tragic,” Biden added.
Welker asked Trump if he could guarantee that there will be a COVID-19 vaccine within weeks.
“I can’t guarantee that, but it will be by end of the year. It will be distributed very quickly,” Trump said. He added that three leading vaccine developers, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer, “are doing very well.”
“We’re about to go into a dark winter and he has no clear plan,” Biden said. “There is no prospect there will be a vaccine for most Americans by middle of next year.”
“It will not be a dark winter,” Trump responded.
Reopening the economy
Trump and Biden disagreed on how aggressively the economy should be reopened in light of the pandemic.
“I want to open the schools. We can’t keep this country closed,” Trump said. “This is a massive country with a massive economy.” He pointed out that rates of depression and suicide have risen because of the economic shutdown. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem.
“His Democrat governors…shut down so tight, and they’re dying,” the president added, gesturing toward Biden. “We are not going to shut down. We are going to open the schools.” As an example of the resiliency of young people, he mentioned that his son Barron tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered.
“I would shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden said. “It’s his ineptitude that caused so many schools and businesses to close in large part. Instead of being in a sand trap playing golf, he should have been negotiating with Nancy Pelosi.”
“He says we’re learning to live with it,” the former vice president said, but instead, “people are learning to die with it.”
Biden added that reopening the economy and minimizing transmission of COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”