Over the past few months, Joe Biden has talked regularly about the coronavirus pandemic, both to criticize President Trump’s handling of the crisis and to explain what he would have done differently. He even released a rather lengthy plan laying it all out.

It had the feel of a campaign exercise, meant to give you a sense of how Biden would handle a similar crisis if he ever confronts one, but without much consequence once the election is over.

Because of course, by the time we inaugurate the next president, the pandemic will be under control. However enormous the damage in lives, illness and economic well-being, the worst will be far behind us.

At least that’s what we assumed. But now we can’t assume that anymore. Trump’s failure on the pandemic has been so comprehensive and so catastrophic that if Biden becomes president, this could well be his first and most important task — not mopping up and making sure the virus stays contained, but dealing with a public health crisis that still grips the country.

So Biden gave a speech Tuesday reiterating what he would do to confront the virus, which has a renewed urgency given how bad things have gotten just in the past couple of weeks.

Whether you prefer to think about America’s situation as a second wave of the pandemic or the continuation of the first wave that never ended, we are in the midst of a nightmare. On multiple days in the past week, more than 40,000 new cases of covid-19 have been reported, higher than at any time before.

“I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, testified to Congress on Tuesday.

When you look around the world, you see what could have happened to the United States. In Spain, which experienced the pandemic as intensely as any country in the world, they’re down to fewer than 200 new cases a day, with deaths in the single digits. In Italy, which we heard so much about, it’s a similar story: 235 new cases and 29 deaths on Monday. Canada: 360 cases, 29 deaths. The Netherlands: 91 cases, 3 deaths.

These countries have done what we couldn’t. There isn’t just one reason, but there’s one big reason: Donald Trump.

He ignored the pandemic and denied it was coming, mismanaged the response, and now, when we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the single most important thing we can all do to contain the spread of the virus is to wear masks when we’re in close proximity to each other, he does just about everything in his power to discourage people from doing so.

In any of those other countries, the idea that masks would become a partisan issue, with supporters of the president insisting that not wearing them is how you show your loyalty to your leader, is considered absolute lunacy.

And not just crazy. It’s killing people.

Now it’s always possible that we’ll soon discover an effective vaccine or a miracle treatment. That’s clearly what the president hopes. But it’s not something we can count on. So if Biden wins the election, come January he’ll have to immediately put in place a plan of action to contain the virus.

In his speech Tuesday, Biden outlined a new version of his pandemic plan. Here are the main components:

  • More testing and more contact tracing, coordinated and funded by the federal government
  • More personal protective equipment for front-line workers, especially health-care workers
  • Leading a global effort to find and produce treatments and vaccines
  • Nationwide guidelines that states can adopt for reopening when the virus begins to get under control
  • More steps to protect vulnerable populations, including seniors

There’s nothing revolutionary there — and in one form or another, the Trump administration said it was doing all of that. But through its mismanagement and the president himself undermining the effort at every turn, it just didn’t happen, at least not in the way it should have. Biden emphasized that:

If it feels like you’re hearing the experts talk about the same issues for months, you’d be right. These have always been the steps the government needed to put in place to meet the threat. Statewide lockdowns that so many Americans lived under for months were intended to buy us time to get our act together. Instead of using that time to prepare ourselves, Donald Trump squandered it. Now here we are, more than three months later, we’re hardly better prepared than we were in March. Infections are on the rise. The threat of massive spikes that overwhelm the capacity of our health care system is on the horizon. Americans, anxious and out of work, are fearful for their lives and their livelihoods. Donald Trump is doing next to nothing about it.

This is one of the most painful things about the situation we’re in now, as we watch the number of cases go back up. Was all that we did — leaving our jobs, keeping our kids home from school, not seeing our friends and families — was all that for nothing? Are we right back where we started?

We may well be. And it wasn’t unavoidable. It wasn’t random. It wasn’t an accident. It was the direct result of actions taken by our political leadership, especially President Trump.

I can’t say that Biden will be so masterful in his management of the pandemic that he will vanquish it in short order if and when he takes office. We can’t know that yet. But at a minimum, he’s thinking seriously about how to handle it. And he certainly can’t do any worse than Trump.

Read more: