GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Reuters) - 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.”
Biden’s remarks as he campaigned in the battleground state of Michigan hours after testing negative twice for the virus, 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 campaign rallies of thousands with little social distancing.
Trump's illness put even greater attention on the novel coronavirus pandemic a little more than four weeks before the Nov. 3 election. The president was experiencing mild symptoms and will be off the trail indefinitely. The White House said Trump was being moved here into a special suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for the next few days as a precautionary measure.
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 207,000 people here in the United States, and undermine Trump's argument that the end of the pandemic is in sight. Opinion polls show voters trust Biden more than Trump to handle the pandemic.
“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 on Friday, Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, and former President Barack Obama both wished the Trumps a speedy recovery.
“Doug and I are sharing our deepest prayers for the health and recovery of the president and the first lady,” Harris said. (Her husband is entertainment lawyer Douglas Emhoff.) “Let it be a reminder to all of us that we must remain vigilant and take care of ourselves - and take care of each other.”
As Biden’s motorcade traveled through Grand Rapids, dozens of supporters stood along the road waiving placards. One woman held a small American flag and a cardboard sign that read, “Masks work.”
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.
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.
Reporting by Jeff Mason in Grand Rapids, Mich., Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Doina Chiacu and John Whitesides in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides and Joseph Ax; Editing by Alistair Bell, Matthew Lewis and Grant McCool
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.