The current count of those infected with Covid-19 is 43.5 million worldwide and a total death count of 1.1 million as of the writing of this article. The United States alone accounts for 8.9 million of the infected and 230,000 deaths making it the country with the highest amount of infections and deaths. With numbers like these and the election less than a week away, Covid-19 is perhaps the most important issue on the ticket. 

Americans have been living with the devastating consequences of this deadly virus for most of the year. The disruption has been immense, innumerable lives lost, and businesses affected, the country now faces immense hardship. With cases on the rise again and predictions for the availability of a vaccine being inconclusive, it is apparent that the pandemic is unlikely to wane quickly. Rather, it is something that must be effectively managed. 

Joe Biden and Donald Trump have demonstrated markedly different approaches to the virus. The Trump administration has been dealing with the Covid-19 virus directly since its onset in the U.S. in March. The guidelines issued by the current administration include practicing good hygiene, taking care to wash hands, disinfecting surfaces, and wearing face coverings in public, amongst others. 

The Trump administration has also put forth a three step approach to managing the pandemic and the reopening of school, businesses, and workplaces:

Phase 1: Encourage/Enforce as much self-isolation as possible. This has involved many of the above-mentioned strategies, but additionally includes minimizing large interactions with the public, restricting non-essential travel, encouraging businesses to promote telework whenever impossible, limiting access to gyms, and enforcing social distancing at senior care facilities. 

Phase 2: Expand social circles when data suggests no evidence for a rebound. This includes lifting restrictions, returning to a mild level of social distance and security, and the opening of outdoor dining, while also maintaining some of the previous restrictions like at gyms and senior care facilities.

Phase 3: Reopening while maintaining social distancing. This phase is the simplest as it just means removing all but the most basic restrictions on daily life. Vulnerable individuals can interact in public, employers can remove virus-related restrictions, and places like senior care facilities, gyms, movie theaters, and bars may open with only a limited adherence to social distancing.

We are effectively in Phase 3, yet, cases are on the rise, with frighteningly high numbers projected for the winter months. While this plan may seem like a systematic approach, it is deficient in its emphasis on reopening rather than minimization of casualties. Certainly reopening the economy and businesses is essential, however, this cannot be done without addressing the health and financial hardship communities are facing. 

Furthermore, Trump himself has taken a callous approach to taking precautions against the virus. 

The president caught Covid-19 and was in the hospital less than a month ago while five of Vice President Mike Pence’s closest aides have also come down with Covid-19. While Pence himself has tested negative, several others around the president have contracted the virus (a comprehensive list can be found here). Trump himself has not practiced proper social distancing. Additionally, he has repeatedly held large rallies in states that have seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, where he often neglects to wear a mask and does not seem to enforce much social distancing. Many of the cases in the White House can be attributed to the superspreader event held to confirm the Supreme Court nominee in late September. 

Donald Trump and his administration have largely undermined scientific expertise and ignored data in pursuit of reopening the country as fast as possible, to the detriment of millions. Testing has been a prime example of Trump’s unwillingness to follow scientific expertise as he has actively fought to implement further testing whenever presented. Recklessness and misinformation have largely been the result of the Trump Administration’s actions.

Joe Biden has repeatedly pointed towards the egregious negligence and failure of this administration to implement what should have been basic, sound, and straightforward strategies. In one of the more humorous moments in the presidential election, Biden created a   website to point out the lack of commitment and planning the president has taken during the course of the pandemic. 

Joe Biden is not the sitting Commander in Chief; thus it is impossible to know exactly what his actions would be were he in Trump’s position. However, at first glance, Joe Biden’s plan is far more comprehensive in addressing the pandemic.  

In contrast to Trump’s three-phase plan to reopen the country, the Joe Biden website offers a collection of points that outlines the overall strategy for combating Covid-19 Whitehouse’s website. The main bullet points of the Biden campaign are highlighted below:

  • Restoring trust, credibility, and common purpose.
  • Mounting an effective national emergency response that saves lives, protects frontline workers, and minimizes the spread of COVID-19.
  • Eliminating cost barriers for the prevention of and care for COVID-19.
  • Pursuing decisive economic measures to help hard-hit workers, families, and small businesses and to stabilize the American economy.
  • Rallying the world to confront this crisis while laying the foundation for the future.

Key aspects of this plan include making testing “widely available and free,” restoring the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefence, providing support to healthcare workers and hospitals by boosting the existing infrastructure, accelerating the development of treatment and vaccinations, establishing and funding a U.S. Public Health Service Reserve Corps, funding key programs as well as bolstering the Public Health Service Act, the Social Security Act, the Medicaid program and others. The plan also provides for workers by specifying the kinds of paid leave that must be covered, unemployment benefits, assistance to hard-hit families, mortgage and rental relief, interest-free loans for small businesses and a detailed stimulus package

Biden recently laid out a plan with further details including mandatory mask-wearing in federal buildings, hiring a national corps of contact tracers, increasing the manufacturing of PPE, and creating a cost-free vaccine for everyone. 

There remains some ambiguity about how exactly these measures will be passed and implemented. The framework is an effective one, but implementation remains uncertain. Emergency legislation is mentioned in the plan, of course, Congress passing these measures is a variable. However, the plan does indicate the kind of cohesive leadership that is so crucial at this point in time. While the plan is an admirable one, these are lofty goals from someone who has spent their political life trying to privatize social security, reject Medicare-for-All, and overall undermine the social safety net. If we assess Biden’s career and policies as a whole, there are gaps between his verbal commitment to the wellbeing of the American people and healthcare policies that toe the line between providing basic care for all and maintaining the status quo. 

Biden has definitely demonstrated more personal responsibility than Trump in terms of the virus. He has largely kept a low profile during the campaign, often being seen wearing a mask and staying close to his home residency. After Trump caught the virus, Biden also went through testing to determine if he had been infected by Covid-19. Joe Biden went through three tests, all of which came back negative, which stands in stark contrast to the increased infection rate among the Trump Administration. 

The current administration’s strategy lacks a cohesive plan at the national level. Much has been left to the discretion of states and individuals rather than an overarching federal plan that does not only rely on guidelines but enforces mask-wearing, mandatory, free, testing, and contact tracing. A country like the United States possesses the requisite resources and technology to curb this virus without throwing caution to the wind. Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Canada are prime examples of effective implementation and management of the virus. 

As a country, we are lucky enough to have the tools and resources to combat this virus. We do not have to surrender to chaos or abandon the routines of our lives. This has been a deadly presidency in more ways than one. The Biden campaign may have gaps and deficiencies, yet, Biden has a willingness to listen to expert advice and a detailed plan. Without effective leadership, we will continue to flounder. Novel in its chaos and stakes, this election will determine not only the trajectory of this nation but also health, safety, and life itself.