Final Presidential Debate at Belmont University Moderated by Kristen Welker - Nashville, TN - October 22, 2020 Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

With just six days until the election, Emily Wade breaks down each candidate’s proposed COVID-19 recovery plan, highlighting two different realities of 2021 in the United States.

Welcome to the sixth day before the historic election. Today’s ABC News and Washington Post polls on Wisconsin and Michigan suggest that an increase in coronavirus cases in Wisconsin may influence voting preferences and hurt Trump’s chances at re-election. 

As the pandemic remains one of the major election topics, it’s a good time to revisit Trump’s and Biden’s positions on the issue, as they presented during the final presidential debate last Thursday night. 

Kristen Welker opened what would become a relatively tame, candid debate by asking each candidate to advocate for his leadership through the next stage of the coronavirus. With 16,000 deceased since the last presidential debate on September 29, 2020, and 40,000 in the hospital with COVID on the eve of the final debate, she prompted Trump to give his response first. 

Trump began by citing the original predictive model for the course of this disease, which claimed some 2.2 million people would lose their lives to the virus. So far COVID has claimed roughly 10% of this number. Trump emphasized that the spikes or surges we’ve seen have come and gone across multiple regions, and he included one account that has the mortality rate of the virus down 85% since its onset in his response, an astonishing accomplishment by our medical community.

The President praised Operation Warpspeed, which saw vaccine studies and trials as early as February. Additionally, he mentioned America’s “incredible mobilization” during this uncertain period, providing masks, goggles, ventilators, testing reagents, and more to other countries across the globe. Although, as Welker pointed out, Trump’s administration has declared the public may be wearing masks and social distancing into 2022, Trump shared, “I don’t know that they’re counting on the military the way I do.” One general in particular, who Trump referred to as the head of logistics, “is ready to go as soon as we have the vaccine, and we expect to have 100 million vials as soon as we have the vaccine.”

The vaccine, which Trump expects to come out sometime between two weeks from now and the end of the year, may be produced by one of the following companies. Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer were all listed by Trump as competitors in late-stage trials of the vaccine., “Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States.,” said Biden.  As to what he would have done better himself, Biden pointed to mandatory masks, investments in rapid testing, the setting of national standards for reopening schools and businesses, and the subsequent funding of those schools and businesses. Predicting another 200,000 deaths by the end of the year and claiming there are 1,000 deaths a day currently, the former Vice President sets a gloomy scene.

Emily Wade: It is worth noting that in the 23 days between the two debates, as Welker mentioned in her first question, 16,000 Americans passed away with COVID. Biden’s estimate of 1,000 deaths per day exaggerates the toll of this virus by 70%. Similarly, as medical professionals have become more equipped to deal with the virus with the production of therapeutics and increased exposure, the mortality rate has decreased. This renders Biden’s prediction that we will see 200,000 more deaths before the end of the year (a two month period) incredibly unlikely, given we have seen just over that number in the ten months spent coping with the virus.

During the first debate, Chris Wallace addressed how rhetoric may cause individuals to hold distrust towards the President, a troubling sentiment as the stakes have to do with wellness. Given that just 40% of Americans say they would take a vaccine if it became available, in the final debate Welker asked Biden, “What steps would you take to give Americans confidence in a vaccine if it were approved?”

Biden would, “Have scientists see, know, look at it, go through all the processes,” in order to assure the American public that the approved vaccine should be taken. It would be troubling if a vaccine was available to the public that hadn’t had a scientist “see, know, look at it,” and, “go through all the processes,” in the first place, quite frankly. Given that no vaccine is approved without intensive study, it’s unclear how Biden’s answer is meaningful at all. Regardless, he was adamant. “We are about to go into a dark winter,” one which Biden believes he is better equipped to pull you through.

Trump rejected that notion altogether as he rebutted, “I don’t think we’re going into a dark winter at all. We’re opening up our country. We’ve learned and studied and understand the disease, which we didn’t know at the beginning.” Biden called for investments in rapid testing and vaguely for the distribution of funding, two areas on which Trump has, in fact, been focused. “Everything that he said about the way — every single move that he said we should make — that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done all of it, but he was way behind us,” Trump insisted. 

Biden rejected this notion, as well as the claim that Biden criticized Trump’s early shutdown as “hysterical fear-mongering.”  He declared that Trump’s shutdown was too late, happening “after 40 countries had already done it.” By Biden’s account, Trump did “virtually nothing” to fight the coronavirus, was hospitalized with the disease, and emerged from his stay assuaging the public, claiming the virus will go away soon. To this, Biden responded, “There’s not a single scientist in the world who thinks it’s going to be over soon.” 

Trump interjected, “I did not say over soon. I say learning to live with it… We can’t close up our nation or you’re not going to have a nation.” In response to Biden’s chirps directed at the willingness of the President to be held accountable for the events that have unfolded since the dawn of this pandemic, Trump declared, “I take full responsibility.” He reminded the audience of the virus’s origins: “They kept it from going into the rest of China, for the most part, but they didn’t keep it from coming out into the world, including Europe and ourselves.”

A stark contrast to Trump’s optimistic outlook, Biden remarked, “People are learning to die with it.” He appealed to voters who may be “reaching over” for a loved one who is no longer there. 

Biden stated that he wants to shut down the virus, not the country, claiming it was the “ineptitude” of Donald Trump that caused the lockdowns in the first place. “He should have been negotiating with Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats and Republicans about what to do about the acts they were passing for billions of dollars to make sure the people had capacity.” He mentioned plexiglass dividers for restaurants and businesses and, once again, stressed investments towards rapid testing and contact tracing. “We’re gonna be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Biden assured the audience.

“Putting the plexiglass is unbelievably expensive, and it’s not the answer,” Trump argued, shifting his focus again to a central message of his throughout this nationwide struggle, “The cure cannot be worse that the problem itself… It’s a massive country with a massive economy. People are losing their jobs; they’re committing suicide. There’s depression, alcohol, drugs at a level that nobody’s ever seen before.” 

The two then entered a skirmish about which color of state handled the pandemic more poorly. Trump criticized Democrat leadership, to which Biden responded that he ‘doesn’t see the color of states,’ only to turn around and blame Republican leadership anyway.

 With the last word, Trump pointed out that “New York has lost more than 40,000 people. 11,000 in nursing.” By those figures and the power of my calculator, this would render New York responsible for just under 20% of all deaths with COVID in the United States.

Next, Welker asked Trump about his rhetoric, referring to “the nation’s best known infectious disease expert,” Dr. Anthony Fauci as a, “disaster”; similarly, she asked who he is listening to, if not Fauci and other medical experts.

“I’m listening to all of them, including Anthony,” Trump began. “He did say, as you know, ‘This is not going to be a problem,’” he appealed. In the ten months since first encountering the virus, protocol has changed continuously in order to maintain our best defense against COVID. Trump beckoned, “Nobody knew what this thing was,” going on to mention Fauci’s own shifting stance on masks.

Biden jumped in and accused the President of hiding information from the American people whilst using it to his own stock advantage. He claimed that, “Some of the brokers — had said, ‘Sell short, because we gotta get moving. It’s a dangerous problem.’” The former Vice President said this was a memo from some brokers’ meeting with the President, which presumably went to Wall Street thereafter. Trump’s defense for holding the information as to the severity has been that he was avoiding panic and putting on a strong face for the American people. Biden declared, “Americans don’t panic,” (a swift reminder that he does not buy his own toilet paper).

Trump protests, “I don’t know if somebody went to Wall Street… You shouldn’t be bringing up Wall Street,” alluding to the burgeoning and blunted story about the financial and recreational activities of the Biden family discovered on the hard drive of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. The activities implicate China, Russia, and other foreign adversaries in achieving influence laundering money through businesses/companies to which the Biden named is attached or affiliated. Brushing off Biden’s attack and emphasizing his campaign’s integrity, Trump stated, “Every time you raise money, deals are made.” 

With COVID as a central focus for the coming election, the candidates’ outlooks are invaluable. Intrinsically tied to Americans’ economic issues as well, a precise plan and unapologetic leadership are required to return Americans to a sense of normalcy. What can be made of the candidates from both of their positions is that one sees hope on the horizon. The other sees a “dark winter.” Which candidate the voters will choose remains to be seen.

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