Donald Trump praised his administration's response to the pandemic and said he "denounced" white supremacy. At a separate event, Joe Biden criticized what he described as Trump's "panicked" response to the outbreak.
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden fielded questions from the public in televised town halls on Thursday night.
The two events were broadcast at the same time, but in different cities — Trump was in Miami and Biden in Philadelphia.
The second presidential debate was originally scheduled for Thursday evening, but Trump backed out after organizers said that the debate would be virtual.
The town hall marked the first time Trump engaged in a debate of some kind since contracting COVID-19 on October 2. Trump's battle with the virus was centerstage of his town hall, along with his administration's handling of the pandemic.
Here are some of the evening's highlights:
Trump defended his response to the coronavirus outbreak and took a dig at Biden for staying away from the campaign trail in the initial stages of the pandemic.
"Hey, I am president — I have to see people, I can't be in the basement," said Trump.
When asked his opinion on wearing masks, Trump was evasive, saying that he had heard "different stories" about the efficacy of masks. He went on to praise drugmaker Regeneron's experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment, crediting it with his recovery from the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Biden accused Trump of downplaying the pandemic.
"He said he didn't tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic," said Biden. "Americans don't panic. He panicked."
"President Trump talks about many things which aren't accurate," he said. "If the body of scientists say that this (vaccine) is what is ready to be done, I will encourage people to take it."
Trump said he would denounce white supremacy, but refused to condemn the QAnon conspiracy group. "I denounce white supremacy, I have denounced white supremacy for years."
When asked about conspiracy theories related to QAnon, Trump said he knew nothing about the movement, but insisted he knew that they were "very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that."
The conspiracy movement falsely claims that Trump is fighting against a global elite of pedophiles operating a child trafficking ring.
Trump tried to evade questions around a New York Times investigation on his taxes that revealed he owed $400 million (€342 million) to creditors. He conceded that he was financially "underleveraged."
Trump suggested that some of his loans were "favors to institutions that wanted to loan me money."
"When you look at vast properties like I have, and they're big and they’re beautiful and they're well located, when you look at that, the amount of money, $400 million, is a peanut, it’s extremely underleveraged. And it’s leveraged with normally normal banks. Not a big deal," said Trump.
Fracking, economy and the election
Biden was questioned on his views on fracking — an issue for which he and his vice presidential hopeful Kamala Harris are consistently targeted by Trump.
Biden said that he would "stop giving tax breaks and subsidizing oil," but not ban fracking.
Trump reiterated his views on his administration's success in creating jobs and said next year the economy "would be phenomenal" if he was reelected. He also pledged to create a less expensive, better healthcare plan than Obamacare.
When asked whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost, Trump said he would accept defeat if it was an "honest election."