Biden isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, has 'very mild symptoms'

U.S. President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday and is isolating with "very mild symptoms," the White House said, as new variants of the highly contagious virus challenge efforts to return to normal after two and a half years of the pandemic.

President has begun taking antiviral drug Paxlovid, press secretary says

A man stands at a lectern, seen against a blue sky.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station in Somerset, Mass., on Wednesday. The White House said Thursday that Biden has tested positive for COVID-19. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

U.S. President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday and is isolating with "very mild symptoms," the White House said, as new variants of the highly contagious virus challenge efforts to return to normal after two and a half years of the pandemic.

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 in the family quarters of 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."

Biden himself said in a video posted on Twitter: "I really appreciate your inquiries and concerns. But I'm doing well, getting a lot of work done."

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.

The president will isolate for five days and can return to his usual activities after a negative test, White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters at a briefing.

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."

Asked where Biden might have contracted the virus, Jean-Pierre said, "I don't think that matters." She later clarified that to say the White House was focused on how the president was feeling and would engage in contact tracing.

WATCH | Biden releases message after testing positive for COVID-19: 

Biden releases message after testing positive for COVID-19

2 months ago
Duration 0:22
Speaking from Washington, D.C., U.S. President Joe Biden reassured the public that his symptoms were mild and that he was 'doing well, getting a lot of work done.'

In the video that Biden recorded outdoors to tell the world he was OK, the videographer stood six feet away and wore an N95 mask, Jean-Pierre said. The president will stop taking his anti-blood clot and cholesterol medications while receiving Paxlovid.

Trip on crime prevention cancelled

The White House took steps to show that the president was busy working despite his diagnosis, with Biden tweeting 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.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that "all close contacts of the president" will be informed of Biden's positive test "per standard protocol."

"We have said for some time that there was a substantial possibility that the president — like anyone else — could get COVID, and we have prepared for this possibility," Klain wrote to White House staff. "We are now executing on our plan so that the president can continue to work seamlessly from the Residence."

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."

A woman wearing a mask gestures, while flanked by youths and a man in a suit.
Jill Biden visits Schulze Academy in Detroit on Thursday. The first lady, who said she tested negative earlier in the day, said her husband was 'doing fine.' (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

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."