WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, underscoring the persistence of the highly contagious virus as new variants 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 that Biden was experiencing “mild symptoms” and has begun taking Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to reduce the severity of the disease.
She said Biden “will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time. He has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone this morning, and will participate in his planned meetings at the White House this morning via phone and Zoom from the residence.”
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Biden is now fully immunized after he received two doses in Pfizer Coronavirus vaccine. The first was September. Another dose was March 30.
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 is increasing his travel and has resumed large indoor events so that not all are tested.
Top White House officials in recent months have been matter-of-fact about the likelihood of the president getting COVID, a measure of how engrained the virus has become in society — and of its diminished threat for those who are up to date on their vaccinations and with access to treatments.
Paxlovid (a drug manufactured by Pfizer) has shown a 90% decrease in deaths and hospitalizations when it is administered within 5 days of the onset of symptoms.
In an April 30 speech to more than 2,600 attendees at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Biden acknowledged the risks of attending large events, but said it was worthwhile to attend.
“I know there are questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID,” he said. “Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic.”
Biden is far from the first world leader — and not the first U.S. president — to get the coronavirus, which has infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and more than a dozen other leaders and high-ranking officials globally.
When Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, contracted the disease in October 2020, it was a far different time. The disease was not curable and there were few treatment options. Trump received an experimental anti-viral treatment, and steroids following his dangerously low blood oxygen level. For three days, he was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Although most of the world is now back to normal after initial lockdowns that were put in place to prevent spikes in deaths and cases, the virus continues to disrupt daily life, causing people to have to make changes to their plans and to calculate the potential risks involved in participating in different activities.
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