MIAMI — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he’s not surprised President Donald Trump, who has long played down the coronavirus and been dismissive of face masks, contracted COVID-19.
Speaking during an NBC News town hall Monday night, the former vice president said, “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.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t surprised.”
Trump revealed Friday that he and first lady Melania had been infected with the virus. After being hospitalized for three days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president returned to the White House on Monday evening.
In tweet before leaving the hospital, Trump said: “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.” He reiterated that sentiment in a video hours later.
"There's a lot to be concerned about,” Biden said, noting the U.S. death toll of 210,000 people. “I hope no one walks away with the message thinking that it is not a problem. It’s a serious problem.”
Upon arriving at the White House on Monday, the president removed his mask as he posed for photos from the balcony above the South Lawn. He was near a photographer, and other staffers were seen nearby. He did not put his mask back on before he walked into the White House.
At least 15 people who work at or have recently visited the White House have tested positive for COVID-19 since last week.
At their first debate, Trump mocked Biden for frequently wearing masks, saying: "He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.”
In a tweet Monday night, the Biden campaign seized on Trump’s latest show of dismissiveness toward the virus by posting a split video showing Trump removing his mask while Biden put one on. “Masks matters. They save lives,” a graphic on the video reads.
"I would hope that the president having gone through what he went through — and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well — would communicate the right lesson to the American people: Masks matter. These masks, they matter. It matters. It saves lives. It prevents the spread of the disease,” Biden said at the town hall.
Biden also has called for a national mask mandate until the virus is under control, although he acknowledged as president he would not have the authority to impose one outside of federal properties. He said he would make an appeal to state and local leaders.
“I would call all the governors to the White House,” Biden said. “Some probably wouldn’t come. And I’d call the governors, and I’d say to the mayors as well as the county executives, take responsibility. Take responsibility and lay out the guidelines,
“Look, one of the problems is this president said, ‘I take no responsibility.’ Literally. ‘It’s not my responsibility.’ Well, not his responsibility — he talked about this being a time of war. We are under attack. … This is a national emergency, and so the president should take responsibility, and the federal government has an obligation to lay out basic guidelines.”