“We are learning to live with it,” Mr. Trump said, citing his own hospitalization and recovery.
“Learn to live with it?” Mr. Biden said incredulously. “Come on. We die with it.”
Mr Trump attempted to fire Mr Biden for campaigning primarily from home this spring and summer (“We can’t lock ourselves in a basement like Joe does”). He scoffed at the plexiglass partitions that have emerged in New York City restaurants and other places to socially alienate people, dismissing the idea of diners sitting “in a plastic-wrapped cubicle.”
“We cannot shut down our nation,” he said. “Or we won’t have a nation.”
Mr Biden advocated for the priority given to public health, warning Americans of a “dark winter” approaching. “Stop the virus, not the country,” he said, triggering one of the evening’s scripted lines.
The candidates disagreed, civilly, on health care and the environment. Mr Biden said he would push the country to “switch from the oil industry” and end federal subsidies.
“It’s a big statement,” Mr. Trump replied. “Will you remember that, Texas?” Will you remember that in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?
Biden’s statement has garnered applause from progressives but is quickly distancing himself from Democrats in energy-intensive states, such as Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico.
Overall, Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, said the debate was a draw.
“The two candidates came prepared not only in tone and content, but also in substance,” he said. “For Biden, a push is a win right now. Trump is the one who needed the coup de grace.
Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.