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Wednesday July 15th, 2020 1:27AM

Biden hammers Trump for handling of COVID-19 pandemic

By The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Delaware (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday blistered President Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as he tries to demonstrate to voters how he’d handle the public health and economic crisis if he were in the White House. Biden accused Trump of “waving the white flag” and refusing to lead the country through a pandemic that has killed 125,000 Americans and led to Depression-level unemployment. “Despite the administration’s propaganda that their response should be a cause for celebration, despite President Trump’s request that we should slow down, testing because he thinks that makes it look bad, COVID-19 is still here,” Biden said. “It didn’t have to be this way.” Biden said a national system of testing for the virus and tracing the exposure path of those who are diagnosed is necessary to restore enough confidence for businesses to reopen and consumers to re-engage in the economy. And he added that widespread use of masks and social distancing practices must be normal protocol for “foreseeable future,” and he warned that COVID-19 “will likely worsen” during the coming flu season. “We can’t continue half recovering, half getting worse,” Biden said. “We can’t continue half with a plan and half just hoping for the best. We can’t defeat this virus with a piecemeal approach.”

In a separate outline released ahead of his afternoon address, Biden’s campaign called it “impossible” to predict the state of the pandemic on Inauguration Day next January, but said Biden “won’t wait to take action,” and promised one of his first actions would be to ask Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s leading infectious disease expert, to continue serving.

Trump has often contradicted Fauci’s guidelines on coronavirus, and the veteran of six administrations has been largely out of public view in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases have spiked across the country.

Biden delivered his remarks in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, miles from his residence where he’s spent most of his campaign time since early March, when governors and mayors around the country first began issuing stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines to prevent the pandemic’s spread.

As he has for weeks, Biden hammered Trump for giving Americans a “false choice” between “lives and livelihoods.”

“Donald Trump acts like we have to choose between our public health and our economy,” Biden said in a Monday fundraiser ahead of his speech.

The presumptive Democratic nominee reminded voters of actions he’s called for over several months, in contrast to Trump downplaying the virus and bemoaning governors’ orders that helped slow the economy to a crawl. Biden said he’d implement those plans as president, focusing on a national testing-and-tracing system that he touts as the key to restoring enough confidence for businesses to reopen safely and consumers to re-engage with the economy.

Biden also emphasized personal protective equipment and investments in vaccine research and treatment methods.

Biden called early in the pandemic for Trump to use the Defense Production Act, usually a wartime statute, to direct private sector manufacturing capacity to produce more health care materials needed to prevent, treat and combat the virus. Trump later said he was invoking the act to ramp up production of ventilators, though he spent weeks arguing that governors should be responsible for securing their own supplies.

Biden also has said he’d apply the Defense Production Act to the banking sector, requiring financial institutions to prioritize small businesses as they dispense loan programs from the federal treasury. Congress has passed hundreds of billions of dollars in relief for businesses and individuals, but the programs have come under sharp criticism as larger businesses, including some larger corporations, got quick access to capital while smaller enterprises languished or closed altogether.

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Associated Press reporter Bill Barrow reported from Atlanta.

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