President Joe Biden Tests Positive for COVID-19: What to Know

  • President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • He is fully vaccinated and currently taking Paxlovid.
  • His press secretary said he has mild symptoms.

President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on the morning of July 21 and is experiencing “mild symptoms,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for someone of his age, the 79-year-old Biden has received two COVID-19 boosters.

“Because the president is fully vaccinated, double boosted, his risk of serious illness is dramatically lower,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator, said at a briefing Thursday afternoon. “Our expectation is that he’s going to have mild illness.”

Biden first tested positive on Thursday morning with a rapid antigen test, as part of routine screening — later confirmed by a PCR test — and has started taking the antiviral Paxlovid.

This prescription medication is available through emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in people 12 years and older who are at high risk of severe illness.

“Paxlovid … has been shown to retain excellent antiviral activity against the currently circulating Omicron variants,” said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

However, he said in a small number of cases, people’s symptoms return, and/or they test positive again after completing the 5-day treatment.

Overall, though, the President’s “general good health … bodes well that he will make a full recovery,” said Siegel.

The President’s main symptoms are a runny nose and fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started Wednesday evening, the President’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a letter.

These kinds of “mild upper respiratory tract symptoms [have] been more typical of the Omicron variant compared to previous COVID-19 variants that had more lower respiratory tract symptoms,” said Siegel.

Biden said in a video on Twitter Thursday afternoon that he is “doing well” and “getting a lot of work done.”

As per CDC guidelines, he will isolate at the White House, while continuing “to carry out all of his duties fully during that time,” said Jean-Pierre. He will isolate until he tests negative, she added, which goes beyond CDC guidance.

The agency says on its website that people who test positive for COVID-19 can end isolation after 5 days if their symptoms are improving and they have not had a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

However, a negative test before exiting isolation is not routinely recommended by the agency, but if someone “has access to a test and wants to test,” they can do so, the agency says.

The White House will continue to provide daily updates on the President’s health, said Pierre.

Dr. Michael Knight, an assistant professor of medicine at The George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, said news of the President’s positive test should be a reminder to everyone that COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere.

“[The coronavirus] is still circulating in the community, and the newest variants have been more transmissible [than previous variants],” he said.

The United States is averaging around 129,000 coronavirus cases per day and 43,000 hospitalizations per day, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

In addition, the country is averaging around 480 COVID-19 deaths per day.

Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy said the concern with the currently dominant Omicron BA.5 subvariant is that it has more “immune-escape potential” than previous variants.

“In other words, it can evade existing immune protection,” he said, including that offered by both vaccines and prior infection.

This emphasizes the need for multiple layers of protection, he added, including face masks, social distancing, improved air ventilation and rapid antigen testing. The White House was using all of these measures, in addition to vaccination, to help protect the President.

As a result of the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variants, coupled with the dropping of many protective measures in recent months, it has become increasingly difficult for people to avoid being infected.

But Knight said the President getting infected does not mean the vaccines aren’t working.

While the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters “do not give us blanket protection from getting infected with the [coronavirus],” they do reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death, he said.

In May 2022, people 50 years and older who had received two or more COVID-19 boosters were 29 times less likely to die of COVID-19, compared to unvaccinated people, according to CDC data.

“The fact that President Biden … has been vaccinated and received booster doses should actually help us to feel relieved that his risk of severe COVID-19 illness is lower than it would have been without vaccination,” said Knight.

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