- President Joe Biden had a runny nose, fatigue and dry cough on Wednesday night, his doctor said.
- The president is fully vaccinated and boosted, and is being treated with Paxlovid.
- First lady Jill Biden is traveling today and has tested negative for COVID.
WASHINGTON – Hours after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, President Joe Biden reassured the nation “it’s going to be OK.”
“Hey folks, guess you heard. This morning I tested positive for COVID,” Biden, 79, said in a 21-second video released on social media Thursday afternoon. “But I’ve been double vaccinated, double boosted. Symptoms are mild.”
A maskless Biden, who appeared to be speaking from the White House’s Truman balcony, said he’s doing well and getting a lot of work done.
“In the meantime, thanks for your concern,” Biden said. “And keep the faith. It’s going to be OK.”
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While Biden’s vaccinations should protect him against serious illness, the infection is a reminder that the pandemic Biden hoped to put behind him is still part of daily life.
More than 70% of Americans have been infected with COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said he doesn’t believe that every American will eventually be infected, despite the highly transmissible variants that are circulating.
Biden will continue to work at the White House, where he will isolate until he tests negative, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Daily updates on Biden’s condition will be given during his isolation, she said.
Biden had last been tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, when his result was negative, according to Jean-Pierre.
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Still unknown is where Biden got COVID. Americans may never get the answer.
“I don’t think that matters,” Jean-Pierre said. “What matters is we prepared for this moment.”
It was impossible to tell from the president’s COVID test what kind of variant he contracted, said
Jha said the virus sample has been sent off for sequencing, which can help scientists track its spread. Sequencing usually takes about a week, but Biden’s case will get priority, so the results could be returned sooner, Jha said.
The White House has begun contact tracing to reach out to people who were around the president over the past 48 hours, Jean-Pierre said. But, “it is not the easiest thing to find out exactly where someone got COVID,” she said.
“We want to make sure that the people that he was around – if it is indeed a close contact – that they are made aware,” she said. “That is our focus at this time.”
– Michael Collins
Biden’s oxygen levels were checked Thursday morning as part of a full physical exam, according to Jha.
“He is breathing well. His oxygen level is normal,” Jha said.
How often it will be checked is up to Biden’s doctor, he added.
Because of the Paxlovid, Biden will have to temporarily stop medications he’s taken that lowers his cholesterol and thin his blood.
“It’s totally fine and pretty normal practice,” Jha said.
– Maureen Groppe
Jean-Pierre declined to say whether there is a plan in place to transfer power over to Vice President Harris if Biden’s symptoms worsen.
“The President has mild symptoms,” Jean-Pierre said. “He’s able to do the business of the American people from the residence and that’s what matters right now.”
Harris traveled to Charlotte, N.C. on Thursday where she gave remarks on affordable access to high-speed internet and held a roundtable on reproductive rights with North Carolina state legislators.
Harris tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday.
– Rebecca Morin
Jha pushed back that the White House’s protocols on the coronavirus were too casual.
Jha said Thursday afternoon the White House’s protocol on COVID-19 has “done a very good job protecting the president.”
“The president wants to get out there and meet American people and engage. We always said this was a possibility,” he said.
Jha added that Biden’s “immune system is very well protected given the four vaccine shots he’s gotten.”
“He’s getting treatment. He has mild symptoms. He’s feeling fine in his words,” he said.
– Rebecca Morin
Jha said Thursday that Biden’s risk of serious illness is low due to his vaccination status, saying that it marks a moment for where the pandemic is in the United States.
“I want to also just take a minute to sort of mark this moment because the president is fully vaccinated, double boosted,” Jha said. “His risk of serious illness is dramatically lower.”
He noted that Biden is being treated with Paxlovid, “a very powerful antiviral” that “further reduces his risk of serious illness.”
“It’s a reminder of the reason that we all work so hard to make sure that every American has the same level of protection that the President has, that every American has the same level of immunity,” Jha said.
He added that the administration has “worked so hard to make sure that people have access to life saving treatments like these are incredibly important things for the president to have, and incredibly important things for every American.”
– Rebecca Morin
Biden, the oldest person elected to the presidency, was determined to be in overall good health during a November physical conducted a day before his 79th birthday last year.
Biden does not drink alcohol or use tobacco products and exercises at least five days a week, according to a summary released by his doctor after the physical.
Kevin O’Connor, Biden’s doctor, said Biden’s persistent coughing and throat-clearing were likely a symptom of gastroesophageal reflex, which may also contribute to occasional sinus congestion.
Biden also had a single 3mm benign-appearing polyp removed during a colonoscopy conducted as part of the physical.
A three-page summary of Biden’s medical history released in December 2019 said his most significant medical event was brain aneurysms he had in 1988 but that he’s had no recurrences.
– Maureen Groppe
The White House follows safety protocols that go beyond public health guidelines to try to protect Biden from the coronavirus.
Face coverings aren’t required, but all visitors and staff must attest to their vaccination status or submit to daily tests. People who are expected to be in close proximity to Biden are tested daily.
Journalists traveling with the president or who are part of a small press “pool” covering his activities in the Washington area also must be tested daily.
– Michael Collins
Top domestic and foreign leaders are wishing Biden a quick recovery after testing positive for COVID-19.
Prime Minister of Israel Yair Lapid, who Biden met with during his visit to Israel last week, wrote in a tweet: “On behalf of the people of Israel, I wish a full and speedy recovery to my friend, President @JoeBiden.”
Key allies on Capitol Hill, like Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also wished for the president to recover quickly.
Top Republican leaders also sent well wishes to the president.
“I was sorry to hear that President Biden has tested positive for COVID-19. Wishing him a speedy recovery,” Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a tweet.
– Rebecca Morin
How many times has Biden had COVID?
Thursday was the first time Biden tested positive for COVID.
An antigen test, given as part of Biden’s routine screening, found presence of the virus. The result was confirmed by a PCR test, according to Biden’s doctor.
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Biden called House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to wish him a happy birthday, the White House said. The president also called Pennsylvania lawmakers and elected officials, including Rep. Matt Cartwright and Sen. Bob Casey. Cartwright represents the Scranton area, where Biden was scheduled to travel on Thursday.
Casey said in a tweet that Biden “sounded great and is in good spirits,” and he looks forward to welcoming the president to Pennsylvania “sometime soon.”
Biden traveled Wednesday to Somerset, Massachusetts, and several top lawmakers flew aboard Air Force One. In Massachusetts, the president met with top local and state officials.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., who posted photos shaking hands with the president and standing by his side, tested negative for COVID ahead of the trip, according to Matt Corridoni, Auchincloss’ spokesman. He added that Auchincloss tested negative for COVID Thursday morning.
“He is asymptomatic and will continue testing regularly,” Corridoni wrote in a tweet.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is getting tested for the virus on Thursday morning, according to a spokesperson from his office.
Markey is regularly tested and will remain masked and socially distanced per public health guidelines. Markey is double vaccinated and double boosted, according to his office.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is following CDC guidance as a close contact and will remain masked, according to her office. She tested negative for COVID-19 ahead as part of White House protocols.
According to the CDC, close contacts are recommended to test for COVID-19 after five days.
– Rebecca Morin
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Psaki: White House was prepared for this
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC on Thursday that she wasn’t surprised that Biden contracted COVID and that the White House had been preparing for months for that possibility given the percentage of people in the country who have tested positive.
“Every White House, regardless of whether you’re going through a pandemic or not, is prepared for the president to serve in a variety of places, locations, including recovering from COVID in the White House,” she said.
What the White House must do over the next couple of days, she said, is show Biden working and “show him still active and serving as president. And I’m certain they’ll likely do that.”
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Vice President Kamala Harris was on Air Force Two traveling to Charlotte, N.C., for events on high speed internet and reproductive rights when news of Biden’s diagnosis broke.
Her spokeswoman tweeted that Harris, who had COVID in late April, had tested negative for COVID-19.
Harris was last with Biden on Tuesday and spoke with him by phone Thursday morning, according to press secretary Kirsten Allen.
“He is in good spirits,” Harris later told reporters.
The vice president isn’t altering her schedule, but will stay masked, Allen tweeted.
– Francesca Chambers and Maureen Groppe
First lady Jill Biden tested negative
First lady Jill Biden, who is traveling, told reporters she spoke with the president Thursday morning.
“He’s doing fine,” she said. “He’s feeling good.”
The first lady tested negative Thursday morning in Detroit and will continue her full schedule in Michigan and Georgia, said her spokesman, Michael LaRosa.
She will continue following CDC guidelines with masking and social distancing, LaRosa said.
Biden’s symptoms include a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, which started Wednesday evening, according to a letter released by Kevin O’Connor, Biden’s doctor.
O’Connor said he anticipates Biden will respond favorably to Paxlovid, “as most maximally protected patients do.”
Biden traveled Wednesday to Massachusetts, where he announced steps to combat climate change.
He’d been scheduled to visit Pennsylvania on Thursday to talk about boosting law enforcement and reducing gun violence, as well as to attend a fundraiser.
Biden returned Sunday from a four-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, where officials said in advance he would try to “minimize contact” because of the rise in COVID variants. Biden substituted fist-bumps for handshakes in some instances, including his controversial greeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Face masks were required on Air Force One, and passengers were tested for COVID, according to pre-trip guidance.
Will Biden keep working?
The White House had acknowledged that Biden could catch the virus as the president balanced potential risks with a return to regular activities.
“I wouldn’t say it’s just a matter of time,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said on April 26. “But, of course, it is possible that the president, like any other American, could get COVID.”
Biden’s doctors previously assessed he could continue to carry out his duties if he contracted the virus, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in April.
“He has access to the best health care in the world,” Psaki said at the time.
Jean-Pierre said Thursday that Biden was continuing to work.
“I just spoke with @POTUS,” Jean-Pierre wrote on Twitter. “He said he feels fine, and he’s working from the residence.”
Other notable COVID cases
Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive in late April, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive in March. Now-press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tested positive in March.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is third in line for the presidency, tested positive in April, as did three Cabinet secretaries, several members of Congress and Biden’s sister.
Pelosi said Thursday she hopes Biden’s symptoms “continue to be (light). That was my experience.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, tested positive in June. He later had a rebound infection after taking Paxlovid.
Vaccines and White House protocols
Biden has been vaccinated, and he received his first booster shot in September and a second at the end of March.
In addition, the White House had gone beyond CDC’s recommended protocols to protect Biden from the virus. Anyone who meets with the president or is traveling with him is tested first. When possible, Biden is also kept socially distanced from others, Psaki previously said. And the president is regularly tested.
Still, Biden makes risk assessments, “just like many Americans,” when he feels it’s important for him to travel or attend an event in person, Psaki previously said.
“And certainly, that’s one of the reasons we want to be very clear that it is possible he could test positive for COVID,” she said on April 26.
Biden’s age puts him at higher risk
Beyond the vaccines he’s received, Biden could further improve his protection from severe illness by taking Paxlovid, which Harris was prescribed.
Biden is a relatively high risk for a severe case simply because of his age. On the positive side, he has no other major risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease.
Biden has urged Americans to get vaccinated and to get their booster shots, stressing that those who are protected can feel safer.
“There will be positive cases in every office, even here in the White House,” Biden said in December, when omicron was surging in Washington as he announced new measures to combat the pandemic.
Other world leaders who have gotten COVID-19 this year include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Prime Minister Micheál Martin of Ireland, President Andrzej Duda of Poland and President Arif Alvi of Pakistan.
Contributing: Ella Lee