By Jeff Mason
Newton, Pennsylvania – President Donald Trump is spending the closing days of his re-election campaign criticizing public officials and medical professionals who are trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic even as it surges back across the United States.
Trump was to hold four election rallies in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Saturday, as he tries to close ground with Democratic rival Joe Biden before Tuesday’s election.
At a small, in-person rally in Newton, Pennsylvania, Trump mocked Biden for his criticism of the Republican’s record of fighting Covid-19, which has killed more people in the United States than in any other country.
“I watched Joe Biden speak yesterday. All he talks about is Covid, Covid. He’s got nothing else to say. Covid, Covid,” Trump told the crowd, some of whom did not wear masks.
He said the United States was “just weeks away” from mass distribution of a safe vaccine against Covid-19, which is pushing hospitals to capacity and killing up to 1 000 people in the United States each day. Trump gave no details to back up his remarks about an imminent vaccine.
Opinion polls show Trump trailing former Vice President Biden nationally, but with a closer contest in the most competitive states that will decide the election. Voters say the coronavirus is their top concern.
Read more: Biden leads Trump in polls, but so did Clinton
Campaigning in the Midwest on Friday, Trump falsely said doctors earn more money when their patients die of the disease, building on his past criticism of medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert.
The president criticized Democratic officials in Minnesota for enforcing social-distancing rules that limited his rally to 250 people. “It’s a small thing, but a horrible thing,” he said.
Biden, for his part, has accused Trump of giving up in the fight against the disease, which has killed almost 229 000 people in the United States.
Stanford University economists on Saturday released an estimate that Trump rallies held from June to September led to more than 30 000 additional Covid-19 infections and possibly as many as 700 deaths. The study was based on a statistical model and not actual investigations of coronavirus cases. The paper, which did not cite disease experts among its authors, has not been peer-reviewed.
Public health officials have repeatedly warned that Trump campaign events could hasten the spread of the virus, particularly those held in places where infection rates were already on the rise. Determining the actual impact of those rallies on infection rates has been difficult due to the lack of robust contact tracing in many US states.
Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, described the report as “suggestive.”
“I would just say it’s suggestive but hard to completely isolate the specific impact of one event without robust contact trace data from the cases,” Adalja said.
Biden’s campaign, which has sharply limited crowd sizes at events or restricted supporters to their cars, quickly seized on the Stanford findings.
“Trump doesn’t even care about the very lives of his strongest supporters,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
On Saturday, Trump holds three more rallies in the Pennsylvania towns of Reading, Butler and Montoursville.
The state has not as yet seen the dramatic rises in coronavirus cases that are threatening hospital capacity in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Still, nearly 8,700 people in the state have died of the disease this year.
Biden, 77, will campaign in Michigan, joined by former President Barack Obama, for whom he served as vice president.
Trump, 74, won both Pennsylvania and Michigan by narrow margins in his surprise 2016 victory. Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls show Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points in Pennsylvania and 9 points in Michigan.
Analysts expect record turnout in the election. More than 90 million Americans have already cast ballots in person or through the mail, according to the University of Florida’s Elections Project, roughly 65% of the total 2016 turnout.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots are susceptible to fraud and has more recently argued that only the results available on election night should count. In a flurry of legal motions, his campaign has sought to restrict absentee balloting.
Officials in several states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, say it could take several days to count all of those mail ballots, meaning there could be days of uncertainty if the outcome hinges on those states.