What We Still "Don't Know" About Biden's COVID Case, White House Says
The administration is providing daily updates on the president's infection.
By now, the coronavirus has infected the majority of people in the U.S., including plenty of notable individuals. On July 21, it was revealed that COVID had just made its way to one very prominent figure: President Joe Biden. In a statement from the White House, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden had tested positive for the virus that morning and would be isolating at the White House. Jean-Pierre also said that "out of an abundance of transparency," the Biden administration would be providing a daily update on the president's illness. But even as we learn more about Biden's COVID infection, not all questions have been answered. Read on to find out what the White House admitted we still "don't know" about the president's case.
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This is Biden's first reported COVID case.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been more than 89 million reported COVID cases in the U.S. But while many people are now getting reinfected with the virus for the second or even third time, this is President Biden's first time testing positive since the pandemic began. It's the second time COVID has struck a U.S. president, however, as former President Donald Trump tested positive for the virus while in office on Oct. 2, 2020, per CNN.
Earlier this year, Vice President Kamala Harris also contracted COVID. On April 26, it was reported that the vice president had tested positive despite experiencing no symptoms. At the time, Harris assured Americans that she could not have passed the virus to President Biden, as she had not been in close contact with him for at least eight days before she tested positive, according to The Washington Post.
But it's not the first time Biden has been exposed to the virus.
According to The Washington Post, there have been at least two instances in which a person who met with Biden unmasked tested positive for the virus soon after. In March, the president spoke with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin right before the Irish leader received a positive test result, and then in April, Biden spent time with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just days before she discovered she had COVID. Biden tested negative on both occassions.
The president has also tested negative for COVID following exposures at least two other times—once in Dec. 2021 and more recently in June of this year, per NBC. The White House takes "aggressive measures" to protect Biden from getting COVID, The Washington Post reported in May. According to the newspaper, anyone meeting with Biden, Harris, or their respective spouses must be tested for COVID first, and aides must also wear masks and stay more than six feet away when meeting with Biden. "Those are the extra protocols that we do take with the president and all the principals, not just him," Jean-Pierre told The Washington Post.
The White House still does not know how Biden contracted COVID.
Despite previous public exposures and all the precautions in place, Biden did test positive for COVID on July 21. But as it turns out, the White House still has no idea how he caught it. During a July 22 interview on CNN's New Day, White House COVID response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, said that they currently "don't know much" about where the president contracted the virus, but revealed that contact tracing is underway for any potential close contacts.
On that front, Jean-Pierre said that "per standard protocol for any positive case at the White House," the White House Medical Unit will reach out to anyone who interacted with Biden in the days leading up to his positive test, as they would be considered a close contact of his. According to the press secretary, the president's last test for COVID was July 19, when he received a negative test result. Both Harris and First Lady Jill Biden have each been deemed a "close contact" of Biden's, but the two have tested negative for COVID since, per The New York Times.
The president is up-to-date on his COVID vaccinations.
At 79 years old, President Biden is at high risk for serious illness because of his age. Mitigating his risk, however, is the fact that he was fully vaccinated and twice boosted when he tested positive for COVID, according to Jean-Pierre. Those in his administration have said he is continuing to experience a relatively mild infection with mild symptoms. "I got an update last night at 10 p.m. and he was doing just fine," Jha said on New Day. "The symptoms were basically the same—again, he's got a little runny nose, he's got a bit of a dry cough."
The White House said that Biden has begun taking Paxlovid, an antiviral COVID pill produced by Pfizer. On July 22, Physician to the President Kevin O'Connor, DO, released a statement confirming that Biden had completed his first full day of the five-day Paxlovid course. "His symptoms have improved," O'Connor wrote, also noting that the president developed a fever of 99.4 degrees Fahrenheit on July 21, but that it "responded favorably" to Tylenol.
"His temperature has remained normal since then. His symptoms remain characterized as rhinorrhea [runny nose] and fatigue, with an occasional non-productive, now 'loose' cough. His voice is deeper this morning. His pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation remain entirely normal, on room air," the physician said in his statement. "The President is tolerating treatment well. We will continue Paxlovid as planned."