Biden Says Trump Has 'Been a Fool' on Masks as President Mocks Him for Wearing 'Biggest Mask I've Ever Seen'
The issue of wearing masks took center stage, for a brief moment, during the first presidential debate on Tuesday night
The issue of wearing masks briefly took center stage during the first presidential debate Tuesday night between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“He’s been totally irresponsible the way he’s handled social distancing and discouraging people to wear masks," Biden, 77, said about Trump, 74, because the latter has been hosting in-person campaign rallies — most of them outdoors — and giving contradictory guidance about the importance of wearing masks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"He’s been a fool," the Democratic presidential candidate added, in a remark characteristic of the night's argumentative energy, which saw Trump often taking the lead in talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace, and Biden.
The president derided Biden's intelligence and his Democratic colleagues and regularly interjected during Biden’s answers, trying to challenge his positions; while the former vice president responded with dismissal or sarcasm.
Biden laughed off Trump's response when the president told Wallace that he believes "masks are okay" — a reversal from some of Trump's previous comments — and said he'd wear one when needed.
“Just like your rallies ...," Biden quipped, referencing the president's campaign events, including an in-person gathering in June in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said afterward that the rally was a "likely source" for a novel coronavirus outbreak in the city in the weeks after the rally, according to the Associated Press.
Republican Herman Cain, photographed without a mask at Trump’s Tulsa rally, died of COVID-19 some five weeks later.
″The fact that we are debating masks in a presidential debate is really everything you need to know about the sate of the nation," tweeted longtime CBS News anchor Dan Rather, as the two candidates differed over the appropriateness of wearing masks, which have become increasingly politicized.
Health officials recommend people should wear masks to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 205,812 people in the U.S., according to a New York Times tracker.
At least 7.2 million people in the country have been infected by the virus, while more than 1 million people have died worldwide.
Trump told Wallace on Tuesday night that he approves of wearing masks, while he simultaneously made fun of Biden for wearing one throughout the pandemic.
“I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said.
“Every time you see him, he’s got a mask," the president added. "He could be speaking 200 feet away from it, he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
“Masks make a big difference,” Biden shot back, pointing out that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield has said that masks are effective and if people wear them in public it could limit the spread of the virus.
“It matters,” Biden said, before Trump interrupted him.
“They’ve also said the opposite,” the president claimed, referencing health officials’ updated directions about COVID-19 health precautions but misguidedly framing why they changed those recommendations.
(Health officials have updated their coronavirus guidance as they learn more information about the novel virus.)
Biden responded: “No serious person said the opposite.”
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.