Though he had taken a softer tone after President Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis — until the president left the hospital on Monday night, saying people must "learn to live" with it — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden didn't mince words during an NBC News town hall.
"Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying, 'Masks don't matter, social distancing doesn't matter,' I think is responsible for what happens to them," Biden, 77, said of Trump, 74, during the event, broadcast from Miami.
The comments came amid what seems to be Trump's push to reframe the discussion around his novel coronavirus response as a matter of not letting the virus "dominate" — which critics say reduces and ignores the simpler precautions that the president has ignored, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Since leaving the hospital on Monday, the president has sought to project a message of strength in the face of the highly contagious virus, wondering aloud if he was now "immune" from an illness he was diagnosed with less than a week ago.
He has also returned to a familiar talking point: that the virus is not comparably more dangerous than the season flu, despite killing tens of thousands more people in the U.S.
The coronavirus pandemic has become the overarching issue of the 2020 presidential campaign, a point sharpened once Trump himself tested positive for the virus following months of shunning masks and social distancing and dismissing the severity of the disease.
Federal health officials have repeatedly stressed that wearing a mask is a key preventative measure, even beyond the future development of a vaccine.
"What is this macho thing — 'I'm not gonna wear a mask?' What is the deal here?" Biden said at the NBC town hall.
Holding up a mask, the former vice president, whom Trump has argued would impose severe public health restrictions and endless lockdowns, told host Lester Holt: "I view wearing this mask, not so much protecting me, but as a patriotic responsibility."
Trump has also called mask-wearing "patriotic," though he's vacillated on wearing one himself, even poking fun at Biden for wearing one during last week's presidential debate.
The Biden campaign announced it would temporarily pull negative ads directed at Trump in the wake of his positive diagnosis.
On Monday night, Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to return to the White House, three days after being hospitalized for COVID-19. As soon as he arrived back to the White House, the president could be seen removing his mask outside, while other people were nearby though he was still infectious.
"One thing that's for certain: Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're gonna beat it," Trump said in a message from the White House, after leaving Walter Reed, where he was afforded leading medical care not available to the average patient, including experimental treatment.
"We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you're gonna beat it," he continued.
Biden said Monday, when asked by Holt about that moment, said: "I would hope that the president — having gone through what he went through … would communicate the right lesson to the American people: Masks matter."
Even after Trump and a slew of other White House insiders tested positive for the virus, and while cases continue to rise in parts of the country, he and his campaign surrogates have encouraged states to re-open and chided Biden for his continued insistence on wearing masks and listening to experts.
Trump responded to Biden's town hall appearance in a tweet sent out Tuesday, calling it an "absolute 'Joke.' "
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