WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, something the White House had taken extra steps to avoid as highly transmissible strains hit top aides, Cabinet members, the president’s chief medical adviser and the vice president.
Biden, 79, has “very mild” symptoms and is taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
“Friends, I’m doing very well” Biden tweeted at noon. “Stay busy!”
“I just spoke with @POTUS,” Jean-Pierre wrote on Twitter. “He said he felt fine and was working from residency.”
While Biden’s vaccinations should protect him from serious illness, the infection is a blow to the administration’s efforts to show the president is above the pandemic that has plagued the country for more than two years.
Biden will continue to work at the White House, where he will self-isolate until he tests negative, according to Jean-Pierre. Daily updates on Biden’s condition will be given while in 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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Biden flew to Somerset, Mass., on Wednesday, and several top lawmakers flew aboard Air Force One. In Massachusetts, the president met with senior local and state officials.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., who posted photos shaking hands with the president and standing beside him, tested negative for COVID before the trip, according to Auchincloss spokesman Matt Corridoni. He added that Auchinclos had tested negative for COVID on Thursday morning.
“He is asymptomatic and will continue to be tested regularly,” Corridoni wrote in a tweet.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is getting tested for the virus Thursday morning, according to a spokesperson for his office.
Markey is regularly tested and will remain masked and socially distanced in accordance with public health guidelines. Markey is double-vaccinated and double-boosted, according to his office.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is following CDC advice as a close contact and will remain masked, according to her office. She tested negative for COVID-19 under White House protocols.
According to the CDC, close contacts are recommended to test for COVID-19 after five days.
– Rebecca Morin
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC on Thursday that she was not surprised that Biden had contracted COVID and that the White House had been preparing for the possibility for months given the percentage of people in the country who have tested positive.
“Every White House, whether you’re going through a pandemic or not, is prepared for the president to serve in a variety of places, places, including recovering from COVID in the White House,” she said. .
What the White House needs to do over the next two days, she said, is show that Biden is working and “show him that he’s still active and he’s president. And I’m sure that ‘they probably will’.
Vice President Kamala Harris was on Air Force Two traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina, for high-speed internet and reproductive rights events when news of Biden’s diagnosis broke.
A White House official said in a statement that Harris, who had COVID in late April, tested negative for COVID-19. The official said Harris last saw the president on Tuesday and spoke to him by phone Thursday morning. The vice president is not changing her schedule, but will remain masked, the official added.
First lady Jill Biden, who travels, told reporters she spoke with the president on Thursday morning.
“He’s fine,” she said. “He feels good.”
The first lady tested negative Thursday morning in Detroit and will continue her full program in Michigan and Georgia, her spokesman Michael LaRosa said.
She will continue to follow CDC guidelines for masking and social distancing, LaRosa said.
Biden’s symptoms include a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, which began Wednesday evening, according to a letter released by Kevin O’Connor, Biden’s doctor.
O’Connor said he expects Biden to respond favorably to Paxlovid, “as most maxed-out patients do.”
Biden visited Massachusetts on Wednesday, where he announced measures to address climate change.
He was scheduled to travel to Pennsylvania on Thursday to speak about strengthening 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” due to rising COVID variants. Biden replaced punches with handshakes in some instances, including his controversial greeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Face masks were required on Air Force One and passengers were tested for COVID, according to pre-trip advice.
The White House had acknowledged that Biden could catch the virus while the the president balanced the 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 April 26. “But, of course, it’s possible that the president, like any other American, could contract COVID.”
Biden’s doctors had previously assessed he could continue in office if he contracted the virus, 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.
Psaki herself tested positive at the end of Marchmonths after a previous episode of COVID.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is third in line for president, tested positive in Aprilas did three cabinet secretaries, several members of Congress and Biden’s sister.
Pelosi said Thursday that she hopes Biden’s symptoms “continue to be (mild). That was my experience.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, tested positive in June. He then had a rebound infection after taking Paxlovid.
Biden was vaccinated and he received his first booster shot in September and a second at the end of March.
Additionally, the White House had gone beyond CDC-recommended protocols to protect Biden from the virus. Anyone who meets the president or travels with him is tested first. When possible, Biden is also kept socially distanced from others, Psaki has previously said. And the president is regularly tested.
Still, Biden makes risk assessments, “like many Americans,” when he feels it’s important for him to travel or attend an event in person, Psaki has previously said.
“And that’s certainly one of the reasons why we want to be very clear that it’s possible he could test positive for COVID,” she said on April 26.
Beyond the vaccines he has received, Biden could further improve his protection against serious illnesses by taking Paxlovid, which Harris was prescribed.
Biden is at relatively high risk for a serious case simply because of his age. On the plus side, he has no other major risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, or chronic lung disease.
Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated and vaccinated, stressing that those who are protected may feel safer.
“There will be positive cases in every office, even here at the White House,” Biden said in December, as the omicron surged in Washington as he announced new measures to fight the pandemic.
Other world leaders who have contracted 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.
Contributors: Francesca Chambers, Rebecca Morin and Ella Lee.