President Biden tested positive Thursday for COVID-19 and was experiencing mild symptoms, the White House announced.
Mr. Biden, who is fully vaccinated and twice boosted, will be isolated in the White House residence, the White House said. The 79-year-old commander-in-chief is being treated with the antiviral drug Paxlovid, according to the White House. He will work from isolation in the White House residence for five days and return to normal public life after he has a negative test.
The president’s doctor, Kevin C. O’Connor, said Mr. Biden has a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, but started treatment early.
“I anticipate that he will respond favorably, as most maximally protected patients do,” Dr. O’Connor said in a memo.
Mr. Biden tested positive on a rapid antigen test, and the result was confirmed by a more sensitive PCR test.
The president released a short video of himself from the White House balcony.
“Symptoms are mild, and I really appreciate your inquiries and concerns. But I’m doing well, getting a lot of work done — going to continue to get it done,” he said to the camera. The president was maskless, but the White House said the camera operator was standing at a distance, masked and outside.
Mr. Biden also tweeted a photo of himself smiling at a desk with papers and said he spoke with members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to express his regret for missing a scheduled event there Thursday.
Mr. Biden will participate in scheduled meetings at the White House via phone and Zoom, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
Mr. Biden was scheduled to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he was set to announce his plan to combat violent crime. On Thursday evening, he was scheduled to attend a Democratic Party fundraiser in Philadelphia.
The White House medical unit informed close contacts of the president, including members of Congress and reporters who interacted with Mr. Biden during his trip to Massachusetts on Wednesday.
Mr. Biden last tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Mr. Biden returned Saturday from a trip to the Middle East, where he was in close contact with leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Ahead of the trip, White House officials insisted that Mr. Biden would be minimizing contact to protect himself against COVID-19.
Still, Mr. Biden was seen shaking hands at public events and not wearing a mask during indoor meetings.
The top Republican in Congress offered sympathy for Mr. Biden.
“I was sorry to hear that President Biden has tested positive for COVID-19. Wishing him a speedy recovery,” said a tweet from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The White House has repeatedly warned that Mr. Biden could acquire COVID-19 but said he was shielded by his vaccinations and access to antiviral medicines, which reduce the risk of infection.
“These are incredibly important things for the president to have. They are incredibly important things for every American to have,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha.
Deaths from COVID-19 have overwhelmingly hit the elderly, so any infection in someone of Mr. Biden’s age is alarming.
“The president is elderly and vulnerable. While he has all the advantages of being up to date on his vaccinations and taking Paxlovid early in the infection, we should not be complacent. People of his advanced age sometimes become seriously ill, or even die, despite being vaccinated,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University.
Mr. Biden’s critics have repeatedly questioned his stamina, given stumbles with the teleprompter and some embarrassing falls.
Still, several factors have worked in his favor. He is vaccinated and boosted against severe disease, and the Paxlovid drug from Pfizer has staved off hospitalization and death in clinical trials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, received Paxlovid during his recent bout with COVID-19. He is 81, and his disease did not progress beyond mild symptoms. He did experience a form of “Paxlovid rebound,” in which he tested positive again and his symptoms worsened for a period after finishing treatment.
Dr. Jha said rebound affects only about 5% of cases and does not tend to cause severe illness.
More broadly, infections among officials responsible for fighting the pandemic underscore the reach of the omicron variant of the coronavirus and its sublineages.
The BA.5 variant is incredibly fast-moving and dominant in the U.S., but it does not appear to cause more severe disease or attack the lungs as aggressively as other variants.
In some ways, it is surprising that Mr. Biden has avoided infection for so long.
Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cabinet members, foreign dignitaries and press aides have tested positive after interactions with Mr. Biden.
The White House said Ms. Harris, who was traveling in North Carolina, tested negative on Thursday and last saw the president on Tuesday. She spoke with Mr. Biden by phone after his positive result. She will continue her activities as planned but will wear a mask.
First lady Jill Biden was traveling in Detroit and tested negative. She said in a Twitter message that she had spoken with Mr. Biden and he was “feeling fine.”
Mr. Biden’s former press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the White House should make it clear that the president is still on the job.
“What they need to do over the next couple of days is show him working and show him still active and serving as president, and I’m certain they’ll likely do that,” Ms. Psaki told MSNBC.
Aides said they took extra precautions with the president when possible, including social distancing and mask-wearing, but the virus caught up with Mr. Biden.
“I think his infection was inevitable,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
“He met many people, did not mask and was sometimes indoors with possibly infected persons. I worry that his infection will further discourage getting fully vaccinated since many may think if he gets COVID, then what is the point — we will all get it.”
This is the second time an American president has battled COVID-19.
President Trump contracted the disease in October 2020. His condition worsened and required a hospital stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He sparked controversy by taking a masked ride with Secret Service agents near the hospital to wave to supporters.
Mr. Trump overcame his infection after receiving groundbreaking monoclonal antibody drugs, which were the best treatment available at the time.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.
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