Biden tests positive for COVID, has mild symptoms, White House says

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Biden, 79, has begun taking Pfizer’s Paxlovid treatment for the disease, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, and will isolate at the White House while continuing his duties.

“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,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement.

The president returned this week from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and traveled Wednesday to Massachusetts to promote executive actions he was undertaking to address climate change.

He had planned to travel Thursday to Pennsylvania for a speech on gun safety and crime and a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

Biden is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots. Jean-Pierre said the White House will provide a daily update on Biden’s condition until he recovers, and that 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.”

First lady Jill Biden tested negative for COVID, her spokesperson said.

The White House has warned that the latest subvariant of the virus—called BA.5—has increased ability to escape immunity from prior infections and immunizations. Earlier this month, the White House said it was stepping up efforts to encourage vaccinations, including booster shots for those eligible.

But at the same time, Biden has more freely engaged in social and business activities without precautions such as masks or distancing. In recent weeks, he hosted large groups of lawmakers at the White House for a congressional picnic and an event to mark the passage of legislation intended to address a recent spate of mass shootings. During both events, the president mingled maskless in crowds.

Before his trip to the Mideast, White House officials said Biden would be cautious as he met with foreign officials by avoiding handshakes and other intimate moments. But almost as soon as he stepped off the plane, Biden began greeting people warmly with handshakes and even embraces.

White House officials have previously said following the infection of top administration officials—including Vice President Kamala Harris—that it would not be surprising if Biden contracted the virus, even considering expanded safety protocols in place.

But Biden’s aides have increasingly shrugged off the risk, saying privately that they were confident that if he contracted the disease, his case would be mild, thanks to his relative fitness, vaccinations and the availability of treatments.

Many other Group of Seven leaders contracted COVID-19 in the past two and a half years of the pandemic. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized and by his own admission almost died. That was back in 2020, when the mortality rates were high, vaccines were unavailable and the disease was much less under control. French President Emmanuel Macron also had the virus in late 2020.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had COVID twice, including as recently as June, after he attended the Summit of the Americas hosted by Biden.

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