Although it feels like we’ve lived through approximately 1,000 presidential debates in the last year alone, Sunday night’s matchup — between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the eleventh so far among the 2020 Democratic field — began on a decidedly more somber note. The candidates bumped elbows by way of greeting, assumed their podiums (six feet apart from one another, in accordance with CDC guidelines), and stood before a live audience that consisted only of a panel of CNN moderators — all precautions designed to mitigate the harmful effects of the deadly Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) currently threatening millions globally.
The virus’s ability to spread quickly has resulted in large-scale global disruption, with some of the hardest-hit countries, including Spain and Italy, restricting residents’ movement and shuttering all non-essential businesses and public gatherings. In the United States, there are currently more than 3,602 confirmed cases as of March 16, with the potential for that number to increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks. President Donald Trump has been criticized for his slow response to the crisis after initially dismissing concerns about the virus as overblown, effectively missing a crucial window to deploy mitigation tactics and ramp up production of much-needed test kits in America.
Biden and Sanders — the last men standing in a Democratic primary field that once saw as many as 29 candidates jockeying to be the one to take on Trump in November — are 77 and 78 years old, respectively, making them part of a population of senior Americans that are particularly susceptible to the virus. Both men said that they were taking precautions to prevent infection, including allowing all campaign staff to work from home, canceling rallies and using "a lot of soap and hand sanitizers," as Sanders quipped.
When asked how they, as president, would respond to the threat that is currently reshaping life as we know it in America and abroad, they each came prepared with their own plans to tackle coronavirus on a national and global level. Ahead, we've detailed each candidate's proposed plan to take on COVID-19.
Joe Biden's Plan
When asked what he would say to those in the U.S. who are currently confronting the new challenges presented by coronavirus, Biden laid out a three-pronged approach to tackling the crisis. He began by challenging what he called an insufficient response by President Trump, who has been criticized for the slow development of rapid result test kits for the virus, and underscored the need to have adequate numbers of test kits available to healthcare providers.
At the infrastructural level, Biden advocated for the implementation of “drive-thru” test centers, which have been instrumental in slowing the rate infection in countries like South Korea, and also said that he would enlist the help of the military and FEMA in order to set up makeshift hospital tents when the healthcare system inevitably becomes overrun with sick patients.
And while Sanders has long been the candidate best known for his calls for economic relief for working Americans, including government-subsidized healthcare, Biden kicked Sunday night’s debate off by appealing to the same sentiment. While he doubled down on his belief that Italy’s single-payer healthcare system in Italy “will not solve the problem at all,” he stressed the need to make sure that “no one has to pay for treatment, period, because of the crisis.” Biden previously outlined his plan for COVID-19 on his own website, too.
“No one has to pay for whatever drugs are needed, no one has to pay for hospitalization because of the crisis,” Biden said during the debate. “That is a national emergency, and that's how it's handled.”
Bernie Sanders' Plan
Sanders emphasized that the pandemic has exposed pre-existing weaknesses in the American healthcare system, and reiterated that, as president, he would ensure that the 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured could access adequate healthcare — viral pandemic notwithstanding.
He also doubled down on his prior commitment to fight pharmaceutical companies and reduce prescription drug costs as president. Sanders encouraged anyone with symptoms to go forward with testing, promising that the costs would eventually be dealt with my government subsidies.
“People of America, do not worry about the cost of prescription drugs,” Sanders said. “Do not worry about the cost of the health care that you're going to get, because we are a nation -- a civilized democratic society. Everybody, rich and poor, middle class, will get the care they need. The drug companies will not rip us off.”
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.