President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and is experiencing “very mild symptoms,” the White House said, as new variants of the highly contagious virus are defying the nation’s efforts to return to normal after two years and a half. years of pandemic disruptions.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden has started taking Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to reduce the severity of the illness. He was isolating himself at the White House and “continuing to fully perform all of his duties,” she said.
Biden’s doctor, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a letter that Biden had a runny nose and “fatigue, with occasional hacking cough, beginning last night.”
“Friends, I am very well. Thank you for his concern,” Biden tweeted. He added that he was “keeping busy!”
Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated, having received two doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose on March 30.
Jean-Pierre described the president’s symptoms as “very mild” and said Biden had been in contact with White House staffers by phone and would participate in his planned meetings “by phone and Zoom from the residence.”
The White House took steps to show that the president was busy working despite his diagnosis, with Biden tweeting a photo of himself making calls from the White House treaty room.
The president spoke by phone with Pennsylvania lawmakers to apologize for having to cancel his scheduled trip to the city of Wilkes-Barre on Thursday to promote his crime prevention plans. Biden also called South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn to wish him a happy birthday and congratulate him on receiving an NAACP award.
O’Connor wrote in his letter about the president’s treatment plan: “I anticipate that he will respond favorably” to Paxlovid “as do most patients with maximum protection.”
Jean-Pierre said Biden had last tested negative on Tuesday and will remain in isolation until he tests negative again.
First Lady Jill Biden, speaking to reporters as she arrived for a school visit in Detroit, said she had just gotten off the phone with her husband.
“Okay,” he said. “It feels good”.
The first lady, who was wearing a mask, said she tested negative earlier in the day. She will keep her full schedule in Michigan and Georgia on Thursday, though she will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on wearing masks and distancing, said Michael LaRosa, her spokesman.
The president spent much of last week in Israel and Saudi Arabia. White House officials told reporters that Biden planned to minimize contact during the trip, but as soon as he stepped off Air Force One on July 13, the president was bumping fists, shaking hands and even being seen on an occasional hug. The CDC says that symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Biden had minimal public hours after returning from Saudi Arabia on Saturday night, attending church the following day and helping welcome Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, to the White House on Tuesday. The president traveled to Massachusetts on Wednesday to promote efforts to combat climate change.
Dr. Graham Snyder, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an interview that it was not surprising that Biden tested positive given the scope of his activities and interactions with people. He said Biden appears to be undergoing treatment that should allow him to recover without facing even worse health risks.
“He put himself in a place to have the best possible outcome, which is the lowest chance of being sick enough to go into the hospital or, God forbid, into intensive care or die,” Snyder said.
Up to this point, Biden’s ability to avoid the virus seemed to defy the odds, even with testing procedures in place for those expected to be in close contact with him. Previous waves of the virus swept through Washington’s political class, infecting Vice President Kamala Harris, cabinet members, White House staff and lawmakers. Biden has increasingly intensified his travel schedule and has resumed holding large indoor events where not everyone is tested.
A White House official said Harris has tested negative for COVID-19. The last time she was with the president was on Tuesday and she spoke with him on the phone on Thursday morning. Harris planned to remain masked under the guidance of the White House medical team.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped Biden’s positive test for the virus would cause more Americans to get vaccinated and booster because “none of us are immune, including the president of the United States, and we really have To be careful”.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wished the president “a speedy recovery” on Twitter.
Top White House officials in recent months have been realistic about the president’s likelihood of contracting COVID, a measure of how entrenched the virus has become in society, and of its lesser threat to those up to date with it. your vaccinations. and with access to treatment.
When given within five days of symptom onset, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been shown to achieve a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to contract a serious illness.
Biden is far from the first world leader, and not the first US president, to contract the coronavirus, which has infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and more than a dozen other leaders and senior officials. Worldwide.
When Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, contracted the disease in October 2020, it was a very different time. Vaccines were not available and treatment options were limited and less advanced. After being diagnosed with COVID-19 at the White House, Trump received experimental antibody and steroid treatment after his blood oxygen levels fell dangerously low. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three days.
After more than two years and more than a million deaths in the US, the virus is still killing an average of 353 people a day in the US, according to the CDC. The unvaccinated are at much higher risk, more than twice as likely to test positive and nine times more likely to die from the virus than those who have received at least a primary dose of the vaccines, according to the public health agency.
The highly transmissible omicron variant is the dominant strain in the US, but scientists say it poses a lower risk of serious illness for those who are up to date on their vaccinations. Omicron’s BA.5 substrain, thought to be even more contagious, now accounts for more than 65% of US cases.
“There are many infections across the United States,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on May 18, blaming highly transmissible variants, as well as relaxing mitigation measures such as mask requirements.
The coronavirus pandemic helped put Biden in the White House as he vowed to handle COVID-19 better than his predecessor. After initial months of success increasing the supply and availability of vaccines in the country, the virus became a quagmire for the Democrat in the first year of his presidency, as he struggled to increase the country’s vaccination rate and keep up with it. forefront of unpredictable disease.
As cases dropped sharply earlier this year, Biden highlighted his administration’s efforts to end the pandemic and help the nation regain a sense of normalcy. He said in his March 1 State of the Union address: “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great urban centers again.”
The White House has tried to go above public health guidelines to protect the president, requiring all visitors and staff to certify their vaccination status or take daily tests. People who are expected to be very close to Biden are tested daily.