Coronavirus Debate Safety: A New Issue Grips the 2020 Race

Mr. Biden and his campaign have for months sought to make the race a referendum on Mr. Trump and, in particular, his stewardship of the virus response. Mr. Biden’s team believes that the president’s conduct around his diagnosis has further highlighted the contrasts between the two campaigns and their approaches to a virus that has killed 211,000 people in the United States and caused staggering economic fallout.

Mr. Trump has mocked masks, held large-scale rallies and minimized the risks of the virus even after contracting it. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he tweeted on Monday. After taking a drive with Secret Service agents to greet supporters on Sunday — alarming some medical experts — he returned to the White House from the hospital on Monday and ripped off his mask, even as positive cases among his staff continued to grow.

Mr. Biden had moved to take down negative ads after news of Mr. Trump’s positive test last week, but with the president out of the hospital, the Biden campaign confirmed Wednesday that it was resuming “contrast and negative spots” along with pressing an affirmative case for the former vice president. The president had already resumed his attacks in recent days on Democrats, including Mr. Biden.

Representatives for Mr. Trump’s campaign did not respond to questions about the president’s plans for the debates and around testing.

Former Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, a Republican who has attended Trump rallies during the pandemic, dismissed any idea that Mr. Trump’s approach to the virus set a bad example or was imprudent.

“Everyone’s making choices,” he said. “They assess risk and make choices that are right for them, their families. Some say they are going to wear masks, some choose not to. In a free society, that’s what we allow for.”

Mr. Biden, by contrast, has called for mask mandates and has cast wearing a mask as a patriotic duty. He faced criticism for months — from Republicans and some Democrats — for running an exceptionally cautious campaign with very little in-person campaigning. Even now he is holding only tightly controlled, socially distanced events. But in a stark reversal of campaign activities, it is now Mr. Biden who remains on the trail, while Mr. Trump is at home.

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

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