US states were grappling with a surge in Covid-19 cases and a senior aide to Mike Pence, the vice-president, reportedly tested positive for the virus, as Donald Trump and Joe Biden staged a series of campaign rallies on Saturday.
The president’s schedule included three battleground states — North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin — as he tried to catch up with his Democratic rival with just 10 days to go until the US election. Mr Biden leads in national polls by 8.7 percentage points, according to Financial Times analysis of Real Clear Politics data.
The campaign events were held as several US states reported a sharp uptick in infections and Marc Short, chief of staff to Mr Pence, tested positive for coronavirus, according to Reuters, adding that the vice-president had tested negative.
The US reported 82,668 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, down from a record one-day high of 83,010 on Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Deaths also edged down to 885 from 916 on Friday.
More than 216,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 — higher than any other country. Several states posted record one-day increases in Covid-19 infections on Friday, including the critical swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Ohio reported a record 2,858 new cases on Saturday. Illinois reported 6,161 new confirmed cases and said 63 more people died from the virus. A day earlier, Chicago restarted a curfew and ordered bars to close for indoor service.
Mr Trump, however, insisted the US was “rounding the turn” on coronavirus at a rally in Lumberton, North Carolina. “We are doing great. Our numbers are incredible,” Mr Trump said. Mr Trump blamed the media for focusing on the infection numbers, which he said were the result of widespread testing.
“That is all I hear about now . . . turn on television, Covid, Covid, Covid,” he said. “We show more cases because we test.”
“Americans are tired of all this negativity.”
Mr Biden, the Democratic challenger, toured Pennsylvania, a swing state where Mr Trump beat Hillary Clinton four years ago by a razor-thin margin of some 44,000 votes.
“It's go-time, folks. It’s game day,” Mr Biden told a drive-in rally just north of Philadelphia. “We have 10 days left. And it may come down to Pennsylvania. The choice has never been clearer and the stakes have never been higher.”
The former vice-president, who has sought to make November’s election a referendum on Mr Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, tore into the president’s public health record.
“Yesterday, while he’s telling everything’s all right, we saw the highest number — 85,000 new cases in one day — since this pandemic began,” Mr Biden said. He has said that if he were president, he would mandate mask-wearing in federal buildings and in interstate travel, and encourage state governors and local officials to do the same in their jurisdictions.
Amid public health concerns about voting on election day, at least 56m Americans have already voted early, either by mail or in-person, according to the University of Florida’s US Elections Project.
Mr Trump, who changed his official residence from New York to Florida last year, voted on Saturday morning at a library in West Palm Beach.
The president told reporters that it was a “very secure vote” and everything was perfect”, adding: “I voted for a guy named Trump.”
Barack Obama, the former president, told a rally for Mr Biden in Miami that Mr Trump would be the first US leader to actually lose jobs because of his “botching” of the pandemic response.
“He did inherit the longest streak of jobs growth in American history that we got started. But just like everything else he inherited, he fumbled it,” Mr Obama said.
“The only people who are truly better off than they were four years ago are the billionaires who got Trump tax cuts.”
Mr Obama also said his administration had left Mr Trump a “playbook” on how to respond to a pandemic.
“It must be lost along with the Republican healthcare plan,” he said.
In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here
Get alerts on US presidential election 2020 when a new story is published