- The coronavirus is center stage in the race between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
- Both candidates agree that a vaccine should be free to the American public, but they've clashed over their approaches to masks, vaccine distribution, and school reopenings.
- Each candidate will appear in town hall events on Thursday night, where they will likely answer questions about these stances.
- Here's how Biden's proposed coronavirus strategy compares to Trump's actions, point by point.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Americans are already beginning to vote on who should lead the US's pandemic response next year. More than 10.5 million ballots have been cast ahead of the November 3 election.
The country will get another chance to hear from President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden about their plans to address the pandemic on Thursday night. The candidates are appearing at dueling town halls: ABC is airing an event with Biden in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. ET, while NBC will simultaneously air a town hall with Trump in Miami.
The electorate already knows how Trump has handled the pandemic thus far: Vaccine development is now racing ahead and the US has significantly ramped up testing since the spring, but the administration was initially painfully slow to distribute tests to states and personal protective equipment.
Trump has also been criticized for ignoring and contradicting top public-health experts. The president has suggested that masks are voluntary and pushed states to reopen quickly. His administration at one point updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suggest that testing asymptomatic people wasn't necessary, despite knowledge that asymptomatic individuals fuel transmission.
Biden, by contrast, emphasizes his desire to let scientists to lead the federal coronavirus response. He has championed mask wearing and promised to further expand contact tracing and at-home testing.
Biden and Trump agree on many key points, though: namely, that a vaccine should be free for all Americans. Biden also plans to set aside emergency funding for K-12 education and loans for small businesses during the pandemic — actions Trump has already taken.
Here's a rundown of how Biden's coronavirus plan compares to Trump's actions so far:
'The devil is in the details'
Vice President Mike Pence levied several criticisms against Biden's coronavirus plan at the vice presidential debate earlier this month.
"When you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way," Pence said. "And quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing the vaccine — it looks a little bit like plagiarism."
The candidates do share some priorities, but public-health experts say they differ in their execution strategies.
"The devil is in the details," Dr. Leana Wen, a public-health professor at George Washington University and the former health commissioner of Baltimore, told Business Insider. For example, she said, "it's not just a matter of the right to get a test — it's also the ability to get a test."
Experts say Trump's aggressive push to reopen schools and downplay the threat of the virus contradicted expert guidance, including the White House's own safety criteria for reopening.
"A lot of people agreed those [criteria] were very good, but the confusion was that, in my opinion, there wasn't a clear message from the top once those were directed. And, in fact, Trump himself seemed to undermine them," Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider.
Biden has accused Trump of having "no plan" to lead the country out of the pandemic.
Pence, meanwhile, criticized Biden's proposed strategy as "a government takeover of healthcare," but experts say that characterization isn't accurate.
"It would be inaccurate to characterize the Biden approach as top-down and the Trump approach as empowering local authorities. Actually, it's the opposite," Wen said. "What you really need is to empower the locals to do their work, but you only do that by having the federal government provide the resources to do so."
A clash over testing strategies
The US has now tested more people per capita than most countries: around 312 out of every 100,000 people. But the administration has also adopted a piecemeal approach to testing, leaving it to states to create testing plans. The consequence, experts say, is that states are pitted against each other for the same supply of tests.
"My former colleagues in all parts of the country are saying that they don't have access to enough tests, and enough rapid tests," Wen said in September. "The federal government is the one that should be using its purchasing power to procure these tests and to make them available to locals."
Biden has pledged to set up at least 10 mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities per state. He has also proposed a program to scale up test manufacturing, similar to what the Trump administration has done for vaccine candidate development.
Trump's Operation Warp Speed program is currently manufacturing vaccine doses in large quantities while clinical trials are ongoing. Experts say that's a strong element of his coronavirus strategy.
"That's in general a good program and a good approach to this vaccine development process," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Business Insider in August.
Diverging approaches to economic relief
For many Americans, the health risks of the coronavirus are superseded by other concerns.
One-third of voters surveyed in a September poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation said the economy will be the most important issue in deciding their vote for president. The coronavirus came second, with 20% of those surveyed saying the pandemic was most important. However, that poll happened before Trump was hospitalized with the virus.
But experts say economic recovery is deeply intertwined with the nation's ability to curb the virus' spread.
"We can't solve the business crisis unless we solve the health crisis first," Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told Business Insider in July. "Every business is in the health business, whether they realize it or not, because they're taking care of their employees, their customers, their communities, and the environment."
Both candidates have pledged additional relief funding for small businesses and individual Americans.
In addition to federal stimulus money, Biden's economic recovery plan includes an emergency fund for state and local governments. The money could go toward cash payments or tax relief for vulnerable individuals, as well as interest-free loans for small- and medium-sized businesses.
The Trump administration has already delivered $3.4 trillion in stimulus aid to local governments, businesses, and individuals. But Trump has gone back and forth about a second round of relief checks. On October 8, the president said stimulus negotiations were back on, just two days after pulling the plug on those talks.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published October 9, 2020.
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