President Biden tests positive for COVID-19, isolating at White House

Taking antiviral, has ‘mild’ symptoms of runny nose, cough, fatigue

President Joe Biden traveled to Somerset, Mass., on Wednesday before testing positive for COVID-19. (David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden traveled to Somerset, Mass., on Wednesday before testing positive for COVID-19. (David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Posted July 21, 2022 at 10:52am, Updated at 3:36am

President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time, the White House announced Thursday morning.

Biden, 79, said he was doing well and “getting a lot of work done” in a video message Thursday soon after his diagnosis. According to a letter released from White House Physician Kevin O’Connor, Biden had mild symptoms Thursday morning, including a runny nose, cough and fatigue. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement early Thursday that Biden, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, is now taking Paxlovid, an antiviral medication from Pfizer used to treat the virus.

He will isolate at the White House residence but continue to carry out all his duties, participating in planned meetings via phone and Zoom, she said. 

Biden had been scheduled to travel to Pennsylvania on Thursday for an official event in Wilkes-Barre before making a fundraising stop in the Philadelphia area. He was then planning to head to his home in Wilmington, Del. 

Instead, the president spent part of his Thursday in isolation making calls, including to lawmakers who would have been with him in Pennsylvania, including Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Matt Cartwright, as well as House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.

Jean-Pierre said the president had tested negative as recently as Tuesday.

“Per standard protocol for any positive case at the White House, the White House Medical Unit will inform all close contacts of the President during the day today, including any Members of Congress and any members of the press who interacted with the President during yesterday’s travel,” Jean-Pierre said.

Several New England lawmakers were with the president when he announced climate-related executive actions in Somerset, Mass., on Wednesday, including travelers to and from Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport aboard Air Force One.

Biden is at a much lower risk for severe illness than people who got COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted via Twitter.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish K. Jha said that Biden has a very low risk of a Paxlovid “rebound,” which occurs in roughly 5 percent of COVID-19 patients who take the antiviral. The drug can sometimes have a rebound effect where patients get sick again a few days after recovery. Most patients who have Paxlovid rebound do not need to be hospitalized, Jha said. 

Surge of cases

Biden’s diagnosis comes amid a surge of cases across the United States.

More than 177,000 Americans are contracting the virus every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Hospitalizations are increasing, too. More than 6,100 Americans are hospitalized every day, according to agency data — a 7.8 percent increase from the previous week. While that’s an increase, it’s still far lower than in January of this year, when the CDC reported nearly 425,000  cases and 21,000 hospitalizations a day.

Nearly 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States have been caused by the latest omicron variant, BA 5. The variant is more contagious than prior omicron variants, but does not cause more severe disease. 

Speaking at a White House briefing Thursday, Jha encouraged Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. He said Biden has a very low risk for serious illness because the virus was detected quickly via routine testing, he got on medication quickly and he’s protected by the vaccines and boosters. 

“It’s a reminder of the reason that we 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.