The Biden campaign came under fire on Sunday for spreading “dangerous” misinformation about the coronavirus in its push to drive voter turnout for the primaries on Tuesday, March 17.
It began with a tweet from Joe Biden’s account at 10:43 AM EDT suggesting that voters displaying no symptoms of the deadly disease could safely participate in Tuesday’s contests. Later in the evening, in an on-air statement, Biden campaign senior adviser Symone D. Sanders claimed that the CDC had cleared the primaries as “safe.”
With just over half of the states left to vote, Joe Biden is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination in July. However, the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China and quickly spread across the globe, has many questioning whether or not primary contests should continue as planned. While top election officials in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio released a statement Friday saying they will go ahead with their planned elections on Tuesday, Louisiana, Georgia, and Puerto Rico have pushed their primaries back. The CDC, meanwhile, has published a guidance statement on Sunday calling on organizers to cancel large gatherings including “conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.”
According to the World Health Organization, coronavirus is extremely contagious, but 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic or mild meaning the virus can be spread by individuals who display no symptoms at all. Only about 15 percent of cases require oxygen and even fewer—five percent—ventilation. In addition, the average incubation period is five days, making it difficult to contain and trace.
This transmissibility is problematic considering that the mortality rates for COVID-19 are much higher than those of this year’s flu. For people in their 40s, the rate is 0.4 percent. For those in their 50s, it jumps to 1.3 percent. It jumps again to 4.6 percent for people in their 60s, hits 9.8 percent for septuagenarians, before reaching 18 percent for those over 80. The CDC’s worst case scenario projection suggests we could have as many as 210 million Americans infected and 1.7 million deaths by the time the crisis abates.
But these statistics went unheeded by the Biden campaign. On Sunday morning, the former VP’s Twitter account tweeted that, “The right to vote is the most sacred American right there is,” Biden tweeted. “State election officials are working closely with public health officials to hold safe elections. If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms, and not at risk of being exposed to COVID-19: please vote on Tuesday.”
The tweet was panned as “dangerous” for downplaying the risk of asymptomatic transmission.
“If you do not have symptoms, you could still be contagious,” Tweeted Intercept editor and journalist Ryan Grim. “This is false, don’t spread misinformation.”
“Could you be more irresponsible?” wrote former New York State Assembly candidate Adam Baumel. “People who aren’t displaying symptoms should go vote on Tuesday? 80% of COVID cases are asymptomatic-to-mild.”
Following the presidential debate later Sunday night, senior Biden adviser Symone D. Sanders appeared on CNN to encourage voters to participate in the upcoming primaries, claiming that the CDC had deemed the contests “safe.”
Before her segment, Bernie Sanders had done a post-debate interview during which he’d been asked if the contests should move forward given the coronavirus risk.
“That is a very good question, and as you know Louisiana, and Georgia, and Puerto Rico have delayed their elections,” the senator responded, noting that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, New York City rescheduled a primary.
But the senior Biden adviser did not agree.
“Our democracy is extremely important,” Sanders told Chris Cuomo. “Even in times of strife in this country, we have to do our duty. So the CDC and folks have said it’s safe out there for Tuesday, so I don’t know what Senator Sanders was talking about. But I’ll tell you, governor DeWine said it was safe in Ohio, so I encourage people to get out there and vote on Tuesday.”
The comment drew immediate backlash from Sanders campaign’s national spokesperson Briahna Joy Gray, who noted that the CDC had advised “we should not gather in groups of 50 people or more” and called for a correction from CNN.
Older voters have been turning out in large numbers for Joe Biden this election and are demographically at greater risk than the supporters of Bernie Sanders.