By ZEKE MILLER, CHRIS MEGERIAN and JOSH BOAK – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and self-isolated with mild symptoms. White House officials pulled out all the stops to show the 79-year-old US leader could get through the virus and continue to work because he had been vaccinated and strengthened.
In a navy blazer and Oxford shirt, Biden videotaped on a White House balcony to send the message that he would be fine and the country should keep calm and carry on. He acknowledges the pandemic as a national trauma that has killed more than a million Americans and alarmed millions more, and his words in the video posted to Twitter were meant to be reassuring.
“I’m fine, I have a lot of work to do,” Biden said, the faint sound of an ice cream truck tinkling in the distance. “And in the meantime, thank you for your concern. And keep the faith. It’s going to be OK.”
Thursday demonstrated one of the inevitable risks that awaits a president who has insisted on trying to reconnect with the world and everyday Americans after a prolonged lockdown. It was a reminder that COVID-19, with its mutations and substrains, continues to be a threat; the White House also saw it as a chance to demonstrate progress in the fight against the disease.
Administration officials have reminded people that Biden’s prognosis is strong because he has received all of the vaccine doses for which he is eligible, including two original shots and two booster shots. He is also being treated with Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to prevent more serious symptoms.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters during a briefing that he spoke with Biden by phone and that the president “looks great.”
“He had been working all morning,” Jha said. “He hadn’t even been able to finish his breakfast because he had just been busy. I encouraged him to finish his breakfast.
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 began last night.” The president will self-isolate for five days and be able to return to normal activities after testing negative, Jha said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the president’s symptoms as “very mild” and said Biden had been in contact with staffers by phone and was attending his scheduled meetings by phone. and Zoom from the White House residence.
Asked where Biden might have contracted the virus, Jean-Pierre replied, “I don’t think it matters.” She added that the White House was more focused on how Biden felt and would engage in contact tracing.
The White House took steps to show 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 lawmakers in Pennsylvania to apologize for having to cancel his planned trip Thursday to the town of Wilkes-Barre to promote his crime prevention plans. He also called South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn to wish him a happy birthday and congratulate him on receiving an award from the NAACP. A fundraiser scheduled in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Committee on Thursday has been postponed, according to a party official.
Dr. O’Connor wrote in his letter about the president’s treatment plan, “I anticipate he will respond favorably ‘to Paxlovid’ as most maximally protected patients do.”
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said in a letter to White House staff obtained by The Associated Press that “all close contacts of the president” will be notified of the positive test as per standard protocol.
First Lady Jill Biden, speaking to reporters as she arrived for a school visit to Detroit, said she had just hung up the phone with her husband.
“He’s fine,” she said. “He feels good.”
The first lady, who wore a mask, said she tested negative earlier today. She planned to keep her full schedule in Michigan and Georgia on Thursday, while following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking and distancing guidance, said Michael LaRosa, her spokesperson.
The president returned from a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia on Saturday night. White House officials had told reporters that Biden planned to minimize contact during the trip, but as soon as he departed Air Force One on July 13, he threw a fist, a handshake and even been seen in the occasional embrace. The CDC says symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Biden had a light schedule after returning from Saudi Arabia, attended church on Sunday and helped welcome Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska to the White House on Tuesday. The president traveled to Massachusetts on Wednesday to promote efforts to combat climate change.
So far, Biden’s ability to stave off 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 have 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 to him on the phone Thursday morning. Harris planned to remain masked under the direction of the White House medical team. The vice president, first lady and Klain, the chief of staff, were all considered close contacts of Biden.
Dr Leana Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University, said “we’re in a very different place” than before vaccines and therapies became widespread.
“Coronavirus is everywhere, and your chances of catching it, even if you’re vaccinated and boosted, and even if you’ve had it before, are very high,” she said. “At the same time, it’s also true that for almost everyone, the coronavirus has gone from a potential death sentence to something we can live with.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hopes Biden’s positive test for the virus will inspire more Americans to get vaccinated and boosted 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 took to Twitter to wish the president “a speedy recovery.”
In recent months, top White House officials have been pragmatic about the president’s likelihood of contracting COVID, a measure of the virus’ entrenchment in society — and its reduced threat to those up to date on their vaccinations and with access to treatment.
When given within five days of the onset of symptoms, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 90% in the most susceptible patients. to contract a serious illness.
Biden is far from the first world leader – not the first US president – to catch the coronavirus, which has infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and more than a dozen other leaders and senior figures. officials around the world.
When Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, contracted the disease in October 2020, vaccines weren’t available and treatment options were limited and less advanced. After being diagnosed at the White House, Trump received experimental antibody treatment and steroids 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 United States, the virus still kills an average of 353 people a day here, according to the CDC. Unvaccinated people 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 first dose of vaccines, according to the health agency.
The highly transmissible omicron variant is the dominant strain in the United States, 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, considered even more contagious, now accounts for more than 65% of cases in the United States.
Associated Press audio correspondent Shelley Adler and writers Seung Min Kim, Fatima Hussein and Mike Householder contributed to this report. The householder contributed from Detroit.
This story was first published on July 21, 2022. It was updated on July 22, 2022 to clarify that Leana Wen is a professor of public health and a practicing physician.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.