GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN (REUTERS) - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis is a “bracing reminder” that the pandemic needs to be taken seriously, as he campaigned on Friday (Oct 2) in the battleground state of Michigan.
Speaking at a union hall in Grand Rapids hours after testing negative twice for the coronavirus, Biden said he and his wife, Jill Biden, were praying that Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, had a swift and full recovery.
But Biden also urged all Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the disease. He implicitly criticised the Republican president, who has played down the deadliness of the virus, frequently eschews masks, and has held huge campaign rallies with little social distancing.
“Be patriotic,” Biden said. “It’s not about being a tough guy. It’s about doing your part.”
Biden met in a one-on-one debate with Trump on Tuesday.
The diagnosis of Trump, who is experiencing mild symptoms and will be off the trail indefinitely while isolating at the White House, brings the coronavirus back into the spotlight a little more than four weeks before the Nov 3 election.
It is likely to reinforce Biden's message about Trump's failed response to the disease, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States, and undermine the president's argument that the end of the pandemic is in sight.
Polls show voters trust Biden to handle the coronavirus more than Trump, who has pushed for a quicker reopening of the economy and schools, rarely wears a mask and has held large campaign rallies with little social distancing.
"It's hard to say 'it's under control' when you fall victim to it," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.
"If we are talking about the pandemic for the next four weeks, Donald Trump loses."
Biden wished Trump well earlier on Friday on Twitter.
But in announcing his negative test he also reinforced his message about the need for precautions against the virus.
"I'm happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for Covid," Biden said on Twitter. "Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands."
Health professionals say face coverings are key to preventing the virus from spreading.
Biden is expected to speak at a Michigan union hall about his plans to rebuild the economy. A Labour Department report on Friday showed the pace of economic growth slowing into the final weeks ahead of the election, with just 661,000 jobs created as 3.8 million people have lost their employment for good.
Michigan, which Trump narrowly won over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, is a vital battleground in the Nov 3 election.
Biden leads Trump in national opinion polls although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the contest show a closer race.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points among likely voters in Michigan.