Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday that President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis shows the importance of taking the pandemic seriously, telling Americans that wearing masks is more important than being a “tough guy.”
The remarks, which came as Biden campaigned in the battleground state of Michigan hours after testing negative twice for the coronavirus, served as an implicit criticism of the Republican president. Trump has played down the deadliness of the virus for months, frequently eschews masks and has held huge campaign rallies with little social distancing.
Trump’s illness put even greater attention on the coronavirus a little more than four weeks before the Nov. 3 election. The president was experiencing mild symptoms and will be off the trail indefinitely while isolating at the White House, administration and campaign officials said.
At a union hall in Grand Rapids, Biden said he and his wife, Jill Biden, were praying that Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, had a swift and full recovery. He delivered the entire speech while wearing a blue medical mask, a departure from prior events where he typically took off his mask before speaking.
“This is not a matter of politics,” Biden said. “It’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically.”
Biden urged all Americans to follow scientific guidelines, including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and staying 6 feet (1.83 m) apart. Health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, have said masks are a crucial tool for slowing the spread of the virus.
“Be patriotic,” Biden said. “It’s not about being a tough guy. It’s about doing your part.”
During Tuesday’s chaotic presidential debate, Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask at his events, even when he is far away from other people.
Trump’s diagnosis is likely to reinforce Biden’s message about the president’s failed response to the disease, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States, and undermine Trump’s argument that the end of the pandemic is in sight. Polls show voters trust Biden to handle the coronavirus more than Trump.
“It’s hard to say ‘it’s under control’ when you fall victim to it,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “If we are talking about the pandemic for the next four weeks, Donald Trump loses.”
During a virtual grassroots fundraiser with Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama also wished the Trumps a speedy recovery.
“Although we’re in the midst of a big political fight, and we take that very seriously, we also want to extend our best wishes to the president of the United States and the first lady,” Obama said.
The Biden campaign is temporarily taking down ads criticizing Trump for his handling of the coronavirus after his diagnosis, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Michigan, which Trump narrowly won over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 but where Biden has led in most state polls, is a vital swing state in the election.
Biden leads Trump in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the contest show a closer race. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points among likely voters in Michigan.