After a brutal year of trying to save the sick and burying the dead, news of Joe Biden’s ascension to president-elect came to some as a glimmer of hope that an end to the coronavirus misery might be in sight.
As much as the electoral verdict could be reduced to a simple political win or loss, for many who’ve borne the brunt of the pandemic, it was something more: the end of a dark chapter, a chance for a fresh start and perhaps an optimistic sign from a loved one who was lost.
Donna Taylor of Playa del Rey, California, whose 83-year-old mother died of COVID-19 in July, fell asleep with her TV tuned to CNN and felt like her mother nudged her awake to see the headline announcing Biden's victory. After suffering the worst day of 2020 in July, she pronounced Saturday the best day of the year.
“I feel that we are now going to start listening to science,” said 56-year-old Taylor, who blamed President Donald Trump's handling of the virus for her mother's death. “Instead of saying, ‘It’s not a big deal,’ Biden feels it is, and he’s going to work very hard to get this horrible disease under control.”
That will be no easy task for a pandemic again surging across the U.S., with 237,000 deaths and infections surpassing 9.8 million. In his victory address Saturday night, the former vice president promised “to marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope” and to “spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around.”
Biden said his first step will be to name a group of leading scientists and other experts on Monday to create a blueprint to combat the virus as soon as he takes office.
“There is a vision for change now,” said Joelle Wright-Terry, a retired police officer from Clinton Township, Michigan, whose husband died of COVID-19 and who battled the virus herself.
Kennedy Johnson, a 19-year-old in Rancho Cucamonga, California, watched as her mother and grandmother cried with joy at the news of Biden’s win, barely able to produce words. She knows they were thinking of her 76-year-old grandfather, who died of COVID-19 in April.
“It was a feeling of release, of being free from Trump and having Biden, someone who takes the pandemic seriously, someone who cares,” said Johnson, who works at McDonald’s while pursuing a music production degree. “We can finally move forward.”
There were, of course, many struck by the tragedy of COVID-19 who nonetheless backed Trump, who contracted the virus himself and has been criticized for sparring with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and embracing views on the fringe of the scientific community.
Jeffrey Wnek, a 56-year-old sheet metal worker from Buffalo, New York, lost his father to the pandemic, but it did not change his mind about a president he views as the first in his lifetime to help the working man.
“I can't blame him for that,” Wnek said. “I don’t think it would have mattered if Biden was there or Obama was there. It was going to do what it did no matter who was in office.”
Still, both nationwide and in key battleground states across the Midwest and Sun Belt, Biden dominated with voters worried about the coronavirus and hungry for the federal government to do more to contain its spread, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide.
The coming months bring fear of a tough winter of infections and hope of a vaccine for COVID-19, but for those hurt by the pandemic and seeking a change at the White House, Biden's victory felt special.
Scott Glaessgen, a 50-year-old emergency medical technician in Norwalk, Connecticut, was emotional as he digested news of Biden’s win after a trying year of transporting those sick with COVID-19 and losing his own mother to the virus.
“I’ve seen the devastation,” Glaessgen said. “The difference in which Biden has talked about it and said he was going to handle it is stark. Hopefully that will save lives.”
Dr. Irwin Redlener, a public health expert who heads the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said he knew a change at the White House was “not a magical panacea” to end the pandemic. In the past year, his work was transformed, his oldest son was hospitalized with the virus, and he’s lived in fear that another son, an emergency physician, could be infected. He saw reason to be buoyed by the news.
“We hopefully will be rejoining the world’s experts in trying to figure out what we need to do about this,” he said. “We’re not going to see this administration or anyone involved in it fabricating fairy tales about when this will be over.”
There was hope, Redlener said: “This will help put us on a course for getting control of this pandemic.”
Claire Sundbye, 23, a recent college graduate in Chicago, thought of those like her father, a doctor who’s been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
“I’m just so thankful to know the president that we are going to have is somebody that will stand by science and facts so that we can hopefully stand by our medical workers and get this virus under control.”
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 49-year-old nurse Kathy James felt an overwhelming sense of relief over Biden's victory. Her son-in-law died of COVID-19 last month as cases have skyrocketed in her region.
“It hurts, and its never going to stop hurting to lose Doug,” James said of her son-in-law. “But there is this moment that he made a difference in this world. I have a feeling that he is up there, enjoying this moment.”
Sedensky reported from Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and https://twitter.com/sedensky.
Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Stephen Groves in Sioux City, South Dakota, contributed to this report.