U.S. President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday and is experiencing “very mild symptoms,” the White House said, as new variants of the highly contagious virus are challenging efforts to return to normal 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. He was isolating at the White House and “continuing to carry out all of his duties fully,” she said.
Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a letter that Biden had a runny nose and “fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening.”
“Folks, I’m doing great. Thanks for your concern,” Biden tweeted. He also noted that he was “keeping busy!”
Folks, I’m doing great. Thanks for your concern. Just called Senator Casey, Congressman Cartwright, and Mayor Cognetti (and my Scranton cousins!) to send my regrets for missing our event today.<br><br>Keeping busy! <a href=”https://t.co/uf7AsOg571″>pic.twitter.com/uf7AsOg571</a>
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 on March 30.
Jean-Pierre described the president’s symptoms as “very mild” and said Biden had been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone and would participate in his planned meetings “via phone and Zoom from the residence.”
Trip on crime prevention cancelled
The White House took steps to show that the president was busy working despite his diagnosis, with Biden tweeting out a picture of himself making calls from the treaty room of the White House.
The president spoke by phone with lawmakers in Pennsylvania to apologize for having to cancel his planned trip Thursday to the city of Wilkes-Barre 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 award from the NAACP.
O’Connor wrote in his letter about the president’s treatment plan: “I anticipate that he will respond favourably” to Paxlovid “as most maximally protected patients do.”
When administered within five days of symptoms appearing, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been proven to bring about a 90 per cent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease.
Jean-Pierre said Biden had last tested negative on Tuesday, and he will stay isolated until he tests negative again.
First lady Jill Biden, speaking to reporters as she arrived for a school visit in Detroit, said she’d 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 on masking and distancing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Michael LaRosa, her spokesperson.
Travelled to Mideast last week
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 July 13, the president was fist-bumping, handshaking and even seen in the occasional hug. The CDC says symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Biden had a minimal public schedule after returning from Saudi Arabia late on Saturday night, attending church the next day and helping to welcome Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska to the White House on Tuesday. The president travelled to Massachusetts on Wednesday to promote efforts to combat climate change.
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 planned to remain masked on the guidance of the White House medical team.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped that Biden’s positive test for the virus would cause more Americans to get vaccinated and boosted because “none of us is immune from it, including the president of the United States, and we really have to be careful.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter wished the president “a speedy recovery.”