President Biden on Thursday tested positive for COVID-19 — one day after giving a gaffe-filled speech that spurred health concerns and about four days after returning from meetings in Saudi Arabia with killer Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Biden, 79, is the oldest-ever American president and his advanced age puts him at elevated risk of serious illness or death, though he has received four shots of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, reducing the risk.
The president’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a statement that Biden “is currently experiencing mild symptoms, mostly rhinorrhea (or ‘runny hose’) and fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening.”
White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told pool reporters that Biden didn’t sleep well and was tested Thursday morning. A PCR test confirmed the positive result.
First lady Jill BIden, who didn’t join Biden on his trip to the Middle East, tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday morning, her office said.
Biden has suffered a variety of health conditions over the years, including respiratory issues.
A medical report from O’Connor last year said Biden “has experienced increasing frequency and severity of ‘throat clearing’ and coughing during speaking engagements,” which the doctor concluded after investigation was likely the result of gastroesophageal reflux.
The report said Biden has had “several sinus and nasal passage surgeries” to alleviate several sinus issues. In 1988, he received treatment for brain aneurysms.
Biden’s health was widely discussed on Wednesday after the president shocked listeners by claiming during a speech in Massachusetts that he has cancer, using a present-tense verb, but the White House hastened to clarify that he was referring to skin cancer from before he took office. In the same speech, Biden called male Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) a “she” and said that Glasgow is in England, before correcting himself to say Scotland.
Biden’s positive diagnosis was announced initially by press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in an emailed press release.
“This morning, President Biden tested positive for COVID-19,” Jean-Pierre said.
”He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms. He has begun taking Paxlovid,” she said.
“Consistent with CDC guidelines, he 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.”
Biden managed to evade the virus for more than 2 1/2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, including by campaigning for president largely from his home in Wilmington, Del.
This year, Biden has regularly hosted mask-free interactions with guests at the White House and shaken hands with people at events across the nation and world.
The president’s diagnosis comes just over four days after he returned from Saudi Arabia, where he sought to repair relations with bin Salman in exchange for greater oil production to lower high US gas prices. He had previously sought to sideline the prince over his role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Since March 2020, COVID-19 has killed more than 1 million US residents. The current strains have proven to be fatal largely among those who are unvaccinated.
President Donald Trump caught COVID-19 in October 2020 and was hospitalized for three nights at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
The virus swirled around Biden repeatedly this year without him catching it.
In April, a large number of prominent DC Democrats tested positive for the virus, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Harris’ communications director Jamal Simmons.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tested positive April 7 after attending two White House events with Biden. Biden kissed Pelosi on the cheek at one event and she stood behind his shoulder one day later at a bill-signing ceremony.
Biden was scheduled to make a trip Thursday to Pennsylvania to discuss his approach to crime before attending a fundraiser in Philadelphia.
“Consistent with White House protocol for positive COVID cases, which goes above and beyond CDC guidance, he will continue to work in isolation until he tests negative. Once he tests negative, he will return to in-person work,” Jean-Pierre said in her statement.
“Out of an abundance of transparency, the White House will provide a daily update on the president’s status as he continues to carry out the full duties of the office while in isolation.”
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