President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19, the White House announced today. Biden is experiencing mild symptoms and has started taking Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment.
The news comes amid a wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping the country, driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant. Biden spent part of yesterday traveling and gave a speech about the administration’s clean energy goals in Massachusetts.
In the week before the positive test, NPR reports that the president had also “lingered for extended conversations, posed for pictures and gave hugs at the Congressional Picnic on the White House South Lawn.” During a four-day trip to the Middle East, he shook hands with leaders in the region and attended meetings and other events without wearing a mask, NPR said.
A letter from Biden’s doctor indicates that his symptoms are fairly mild and consist of fatigue, a runny nose, and a dry cough, which started on Wednesday evening.
The letter, addressed to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, says that the doctor anticipates that Biden will respond favorably to Paxlovid treatment given that Biden is “maximally protected” — aka he is fully vaccinated against the virus and has had two boosters.
At 79 years old, Biden’s age puts him at increased risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19, though unvaccinated older adults are at much higher risk than the double-boosted president. The White House says he will isolate until he tests negative, and that he “will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time.”
Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, also tested positive for COVID-19 while in office. At the time, in 2020, there were no vaccines available. Trump was hospitalized and given an experimental antibody treatment.
COVID-19 has been a defining factor in Biden’s presidency. On his first full day in office, he released a national pandemic strategy. That plan’s effectiveness has been mixed, complicated by emerging variants that have spread rapidly around the world.
Within the White House, staffers and officials are required to test before coming into contact with the president, and meetings are socially distanced though masks are optional, ABC News reported in April during an uptick in cases near the president. At the time, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki conceded that it was possible that Biden could get COVID-19 but said there were no plans to increase testing or require masks around the president.