Joe Biden, former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate, hosted a virtual town hall with three state governors and over 9,000 viewers to discuss state and national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden was joined by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Edward Lamont to discuss the response of the Trump administration, the current condition of their respective states and what the future would hold for the nation Thursday afternoon. 

Biden said local and state government officials have been taking action to flatten the curve and mitigate public fear during the pandemic.

“There are a lot of scared people all across the country and so often it’s all of you that they are looking to,” Biden said. “This is not a partisan statement. Governors, mayors, local leaders, you’re all stepping up all across the country — Republicans and Democrats alike.” 

Biden emphasized the importance of opening the economy as quickly as possible while listening to the recommendations of public health experts. 

“We are going to have to work harder and smarter than ever before to pull ourselves out of this economic tailspin,” Biden said. “I know what all of you know, that the only way out of this is following science: Listening to the experts and taking responsible precautions that are going to help us reopen the economy as safely and as quickly as possible. We have an opportunity, in my view, to transform the economy as we come out, to build a more inclusive and more resilient middle class.”  

Whitmer spoke about how Michigan has been drastically impacted by the pandemic, but emphasized how a second wave could be significantly worse than Michigan’s current situation.

“Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states in the fight against COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “There is a real threat of a second wave that would dwarf the experience we have had thus far. We don’t want the sacrifice that we have made to be made in vain.”

Whitmer said the disproportionate number of African Americans who have died from COVID-19 in Michigan is a reflection of fundamental problems, not the virus. 

“Here in Michigan, 14 percent of our population is African-American, yet over 40 percent of our COVID-19 deaths are African-American,” Whitmer said. “The virus is simply holding up a mirror to our country, to our disparity and outcomes for people in America generally. (It) reminds us of these deep inequities from the basic lack of access to health care, to transportation, to lack of protections in the workplace, to that our essential work force is primarily people of color.”

Murphy spoke about essential workers and his hope that Americans will gain a newfound respect for these workers, even after the pandemic is over. 

“Our first responders, they can’t stay safe and stay at home,” Murphy said. “…If we learn anything from this miserable COVID-19 virus, I hope we learn a new respect for the folks who are doing a lot of the work in this country.”

Whitmer said Michigan is unable to test its residents at maximum capacity, despite receiving many different types of tests. 

“What we don’t have are some of the critical, simple supplies like swabs,” Whitmer said. “Each of these different COVID-19 tests use a different kind of swab. We have (received) some shipments of different types of swabs from the federal government and we are grateful, but we received 100 percent foam swabs. The test kits that use a different type of swab — we can’t use.”

Lamont criticized the Trump administration’s response and said he hopes Congress will begin a phased reopening over the next few weeks.

“It took the White House a long time to take this seriously and we were out there on our own,” Lamont said. “If you ever want to get this economy going again, you don’t want the states to be alone in the economy, and I hope Congress does the right thing over the next few weeks.” 

Murphy said he is working to be prepared for all possible scenarios, including a second wave. 

“We are trying to get there,” Murphy said. “Restocking bed capacity, PPE, ventilators, the volunteer health care worker corps, (but) we’re not there yet. Without question we’re not there yet, and please God (I hope) that we only have to go through this once.” 

Biden also expressed concern about the United States’ ability to produce a vaccine, given the Trump administration’s decision to not attend the international conference on a potential COVID-19 vaccine. 

“What I am a little concerned about is if and when we get a vaccine, we will need literally billions of those shots,” Biden said. “We have great scientists, I think we have the best in the world, but one of the things we're calling for is a significant increase in funding to be able to produce the vaccine if one is found.” 

Lamont said the government has a long way to go when it comes to effective digital communication. 

“We have learned a lot from this COVID and we ought to start thinking about what we have learned that we can turn the corner on,” Lamont said. “It has all been telehealth and telecommuting, and if you don’t have access to technology in education, you lose, and I hope we can expand that.”

Biden concluded the discussion by thanking governors and essential workers for their leadership and commitment to helping Americans fight the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“You have been exemplary leaders in a time of crisis,”  Biden said. “(Essential workers) in this crisis … are making clear who is invaluable in our nation.”

Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at paynesm@umich.edu.

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