WASHINGTON: 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 challenging the nation’s efforts to resume normalcy after two and a half years of pandemic disruptions.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden has begun taking Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to reduce the severity of the disease.
She said Biden has “very mild symptoms” and “will isolate at the White House while continuing to carry out all of his duties fully.” She said Biden has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone and will participate in his planned meetings at the White House “via phone and Zoom from the residence.”
The White House released a letter from Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, that said the president has a runny nose and “fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening.”
Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated, after getting two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose March 30.
O’Connor wrote in his letter about the president’s treatment plan: “I anticipate that he will respond favorably” to Paxlovid “as most maximally protected patients do.”
Jean-Pierre said Biden had last tested negative on Tuesday, and he will stay isolated until he tests negative again. Biden had planned to visit Pennsylvania on Thursday to talk about his crime prevention plans and attend a Democratic fundraiser, and then spend a long weekend in Delaware. His appearances and travel are canceled.
First lady Jill Biden spoke to reporters as she arrived at a school in Detroit on Thursday, telling them she had just gotten off the phone with her husband.
“He’s doing fine,” she said. “He’s feeling 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 be following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masking and distancing, said Michael LaRosa, her spokesperson.
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, yet as soon as he exited Air Force One on Wednesday July 13 the president was fist-bumping, handshaking and even seen in the occasional hug.
Up to this point, Biden’s ability to avoid the virus seemed to defy the odds, even with the testing procedures in place for those expected to be in close contact with him. Prior waves of the virus swept through Washington’s political class, infecting Vice President Kamala Harris, Cabinet members, White House staffers and lawmakers. Biden has increasingly stepped up his travel schedule and resumed holding large indoor events where not everyone is tested.
A White House official said Harris tested negative for COVID-19. She was last with the president on Tuesday and spoke with him on the phone Thursday morning. Harris plans to remain masked on the guidance of the White House medical team.
Top White House officials in recent months have been matter-of-fact about the likelihood of the president getting COVID, a measure of how engrained the virus has become in society — and of its diminished threat for those who are up to date on their vaccinations and with access to treatments.
When administered within five days of symptoms appearing, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been proven to bring about a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease.
In an April 30 speech to more than 2,600 attendees at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Biden acknowledged the risks of attending large events, but said it was worthwhile to attend.
“I know there are questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID,” he said. “Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic.”
Biden is far from the first world leader — and not the first U.S. president — to get the coronavirus, which has infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and more than a dozen other leaders and high-ranking officials globally.