WASHINGTON — Campaign officials for President Donald Trump scrambled on Saturday to switch their focus to virtual campaigning for the next few days after a COVID-19 outbreak infected Trump and the top echelon of his reelection team.
Yet former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign largely stayed the course, emphasizing how careful Biden and his surrogates have been about following health and safety protocols and pointing out Trump’s dismissive attitude toward those efforts — while making sure not to gloat.
Positive tests and flulike symptoms disclosed Thursday and Friday sidelined Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and landed both campaign director Bill Stepien and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in isolation.
Trump’s illness meant that his campaign lost its biggest draw at rallies in key swing states and indefinitely postponed his popular appearances at regional airports.
Events set for this weekend were canceled. Trump had planned to attend a roundtable with supporters in Washington and address a rally in Florida on Friday, and then speak to two rallies in Wisconsin on Saturday, before the campaign scrapped them after his positive test.
The Trump campaign will host virtual events until Wednesday's vice presidential debate, and then Vice President Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Lara Trump will campaign in person in key states, Stepien announced Saturday afternoon.
"Vice President Mike Pence, the first family, our coalitions, and our grassroots supporters will be out in full force to show the real enthusiasm behind the president’s reelection and to show we’re working as hard as he always does," Stepien said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign sought to build support and sympathy for the ailing president. "I am humbly asking that you pray for the health and well-being of my father and the First Lady," Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Saturday.
The Trump campaign’s switch comes as Biden, his vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and their spouses began making road trips to speak in key states. On Friday, Biden appeared in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a break from mostly campaigning virtually and on video from his basement studio.
Biden’s campaign said it has built phone banks and texting programs staffed by volunteers to connect to voters and get those voters to reach out to family and friends. But just last week, the campaign also began sending volunteers to go door-to-door in person.
After the news of Trump’s infection become public, Biden’s team took down critical ads but kept their candidate and surrogates campaigning with a carefully calibrated message that wished for a speedy recovery for Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who also was stricken, but implicitly criticized the president's attitude about masks and handling of the pandemic.
Speaking to the Amalgamated Transit Union Saturday afternoon in a virtual conference, Biden cautiously responded to a question about what he would do to protect drivers from COVID-19.
"I’m in a little bit of a spot here because I don't want to be attacking the president and the first lady now," Biden said, adding he and his wife, Jill, would pray for their quick recovery.
But he criticized the Trump administration for not enforcing safety protocols.
"Yesterday the Transportation Department, stupidly in my view, rejected a petition to require just that, to wear a mask when you're on public transportation," Biden said. "I find it appalling. I promise you — my Department of Transportation will insist on it."