US President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19, as new variants of the highly contagious coronavirus challenge the nation’s efforts to resume normalcy after two and a half years of pandemic disruptions.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday Biden was experiencing “mild symptoms” and had begun taking Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to reduce the severity of the disease.
“He will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time,” she said.
She said he had been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone this morning and would join planned meeting via phone and Zoom.
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 March 30.
The White House released a letter from Biden’s physician, Dr Kevin O’Connor, that said the president has a runny nose and “fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening”.
“I anticipate that he will respond favourably” to Paxlovid “as most maximally protected patients do”, O’Connor wrote in his letter about the president’s treatment plan.
Jean-Pierre said Biden had last tested negative on Tuesday, and he will stay isolated until he tests negative again. Biden had planned to visit Pennsylvania on Thursday to talk about his crime prevention plans and attend a Democratic fundraiser, and then spend a long weekend in Delaware. His appearances and travel are canceled.
First lady Jill Biden spoke to reporters as she arrived at a school in Detroit on Thursday, telling them she had just gotten off the phone with her husband.
“He’s doing fine,” she said. “He’s feeling good.”
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 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masking and distancing, said Michael LaRosa, her spokesperson.
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 Wednesday July 13 the president was fist-bumping, handshaking and even seen in the occasional hug.
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.