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Debating coronavirus: Sanders blasts, 'Shut this president up,' and Biden says, 'This is like a war'

The comments came in the first Democratic faceoff since the pandemic upended the country.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders take part in the 11th Democratic debate in a CNN studio in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2020.MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden both called for urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic that's the thrown the country into tumult in their debate in Washington, D.C., on Sunday night, with Sanders blasting President Donald Trump for "blabbering with unfactual information."

Sanders said: "Whether or not I'm president, we have to shut this president up, right now. Because he's undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people."

"It is unacceptable to be blabbering with unfactual information that is confusing the general public," Sanders said.

Biden focused on his plan to tackle the crisis, saying he'd rely on scientists and work with the country's international partners.

"This is a crisis. We're at war with a virus," Biden said. "In a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people."

The crisis "is bigger than any one of us. This calls for a national rallying to everybody move together," Biden said, calling on the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin building temporary hospitals.

Sanders said the country needs to move "aggressively."

"So we need unprecedented action right now to deal with the unprecedented crisis," he said.

Both also focused on the human toll of the pandemic, with Biden talking about a family friend who's been "sitting outside the window of a nursing home where her mom is because she can't go in, trying to do sign language to her mom through the window to be able to talk to her."

"I can't imagine the fear and concern people have," Biden said. "This is bigger than any individual. This is bigger than yourself. This is about America. This is about the world. This is about how we bring people together and make the kind of sacrifices we need to make to get things done."

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Sanders said "our hearts go out to everyone."

"We need to move aggressively to make sure every person in this country who has the virus, who thinks they have the virus, understands they have all the health care they need because they are Americans," he said, calling "to make sure the test kits are out there, the ventilators are out there, the ICU units are out there and the medical personnel are out there."

Before the debate began, the former vice president and the senator from Vermont greeted each other on the debate stage with an elbow bump instead of the traditional handshake.

Sanders, 78, and Biden, 77, who are both in the higher risk cohort for worse outcomes if they are infected, differentiated themselves from the president by laying out how they've changed their lifestyles to avoid getting sick. Biden said he's "taking all the precautions."

"I do not shake hands any longer," Biden said, and "I wash my hands God knows how many times a day."

Sanders said, "I'm using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers." Both noted that they've halted traditional campaigning and rallies since the pandemic worsened.

Trump raised eyebrows by repeatedly shaking hands with business leaders at a Rose Garden event Friday.

The pair were facing off in the first one-on-one debate of the Democratic presidential primary season and the first since Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency. The pandemic has stricken over 3,000 people nationwide and claimed over 60 lives.

Earlier in the day, Trump took a shot at Biden, who's leading Sanders in the delegate count and is now the favorite for the nomination. The president complained on Twitter about the Obama administration's handling of the swine flu epidemic in 2009, writing "Biden in charge" and "very late response time" and exaggerating the number of people who died from the flu strain at the time.

Biden was not in charge of the response.