“We’re learning to live with it,” Mr. Trump said, citing his own hospitalization and recovery.
“Learning to live with it?” Mr. Biden said incredulously. “Come on. We’re dying with it.”
Mr. Trump tried to dismiss Mr. Biden for mostly campaigning from home this spring and summer (“We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does”). He mocked the plexiglass dividers that have emerged in restaurants in New York and other places to keep people socially distanced, dismissing the idea of diners sitting “in a cubicle wrapped around in plastic.”
“We can’t close up our nation,” he said. “Or we won’t have a nation.”
Mr. Biden argued for prioritizing public health, warning Americans of a “dark winter” approaching. “Shut down the virus, not the country,” he said, rattling off one of the evening’s scripted lines.
The candidates disagreed, civilly, on health care and the environment. Mr. Biden said he would push the nation to “transition from the oil industry” and end federal subsidies.
“That is a big statement,” Mr. Trump replied. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?”
The Biden declaration won cheers among progressives but quick distancing from Democrats in energy-heavy states, such as Representative Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Representative Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico.
Over all, Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, said the debate was a draw.
“Both candidates came prepared not only in tone and tenor, but also substantively,” he said. “For Biden, a push is a win right now. Trump is the one who needed the knockout blow.”
Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.