Democratic Candidates Step Up To Face Coronavirus, And Trump

A day after the president addressed the nation, Biden and Sanders responded

As the United States government releases confusing and often contradictory directives regarding how best to protect yourself and those around you from the novel coronavirus, presidential candidates are stepping in with their own plans as to how they would combat the pandemic. The plans model what their leadership could look like should they be elected in November.

On Thursday (March 12), former Vice President Joe Biden released a plan to combat COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, as well as to “prepare for future global health threats.”

“Downplaying it, being overly dismissive, or spreading misinformation is only going to hurt us and further advantage the spread of the disease,” Biden said during a press conference on Thursday (March 12). “But neither should we panic or fall back or xenophobia. Labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments taken thus far by the Trump administration.”

Biden’s plan includes widening availability of testing for COVID-19, as well as making it free to everyone who needs it, regardless of immigration or insurance status. (An estimated 44 million Americans are uninsured; Biden’s health care plan includes bolstering the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, while Senator Bernie Sanders has famously campaigned on a pledge to instate Medicare for All.) He also wants to protect health care workers on the frontlines, ensure that people receive the correct information in a timely manner, and secure paid sick leave for those impacted, as well as to instate a fund to help those who have experienced a loss of work because of the coronavirus.

But it would be irresponsible to wait until the November election, or even a January 2021 inauguration, to respond to what the World Health Organization has classified a pandemic. “The Trump Administration must now heed the calls of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to put the health and safety of the American people first,” Biden’s plan reads. “Much more needs to be done, now, to bring our country together, respond to this emergency, and set the groundwork for bold, long-term reforms, including ensuring quality, affordable health care and a comprehensive paid leave program for every American.”

In a press conference the same day, Sanders compared the virus to a war, saying “now is the time for solidarity. Now is the time to come together with love and compassion for all, including the most vulnerable people in our society who will face this pandemic from a health perspective or an economic perspective.” He said the Trump administration’s “incompetence and recklessness has threatened the lives of many people in the country.”

Sanders added that he would declare a national emergency and pressure Congress to “take responsibility on this crisis.”

“Our country is at a severe disadvantage… because we do not guarantee health care as a right,” he said, adding that people who are uninsured or underinsured hesitate before they go to the doctor, which only worsens these crises.

Under Sanders’s Medicare for All plan, the majority of the infrastructure of today’s medical care system would stay intact, but the health insurance industry would be nationalized, funded primarily by the government. “While we work to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system, the U.S. government today must make it clear that in the midst of this emergency, everyone in this country regardless of their income or where they live must be able to get all the healthcare they need without cost,” he said, adding that the vaccine, once it is developed, must be free.

Sanders also wants to increase funds for emergency unemployment compensation for everyone, including those who depend on tips, gig workers, and freelancers; halt evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs; provide additional economic assistance and meals on wheels for the elderly; and ensure that there are national and state hotlines to answer questions about the virus.

“In this moment, we need to make sure that in the future, after this crisis is behind us, we build a health care system that makes sure that every person in this country is guaranteed the health care that they need,” he said.

Both speeches came hours after Trump delivered a televised national address in which he announced the country would halt the admission of many European nationals into the U.S., though it’s not clear how such a restriction would hamper the spread of the virus by those currently affected in the country. His speech also made numerous false claims, including that the U.S. is “more prepared” than similarly afflicted countries and that he would block “cargo” and all people from Europe (cargo and American citizens can still enter the U.S.).