WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and went into isolation with mild symptoms. White House officials went all-out to show that the 79-year-old leader could power through the virus and keep working because he was vaccinated and boosted.
In a navy blazer and Oxford shirt, Biden recorded a video on a White House balcony to send the message that he would be fine and the country should stay calm and carry on. He recognises the pandemic as a national trauma that has killed more than one million Americans and alarmed millions more, and his words in the video posted to Twitter were meant to be reassuring.
“I’m doing well, getting a lot of work done,” Biden said, the faint sound of an ice cream truck jingling in the distance.
“And in the meantime, thanks for your concern. And keep the faith. It’s going to be okay.”
Thursday demonstrated one of the inevitable risks awaiting a president who has insisted on trying to reconnect with the world and everyday Americans after a prolonged lockdown.
It was a reminder that COVID-19, with its mutations and sub-strains, continues to be a threat; the White House also saw it as a chance to demonstrate progress in combatting the disease.
Administration officials reminded people that Biden’s prognosis is strong because he’s received every vaccine dose for which he’s eligible, including two original shots and two boosters. He’s also being treated with Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to prevent more severe symptoms.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr Ashish Jha told reporters at a briefing that he spoke with Biden over the phone and the president “sounded great”.
“He had been working all morning,” Dr Jha said.
“He hadn’t even been able to finish his breakfast because he had just been busy. I encouraged him to finish his breakfast.”
Biden’s physician Dr Kevin O’Connor said in a letter that Biden had a runny nose and “fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening”.
The president will isolate for five days and return to his usual activities after a negative test, Dr Jha said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the president’s symptoms as “very mild” and said Biden had been in contact with staff members by phone and was participating in his planned meetings via phone and Zoom from the White House residence.
Asked where Biden might have contracted the virus, Jean-Pierre said, “I don’t think that matters.”
She added that the White House was more focussed on how Biden was feeling and would engage in contact tracing.
The White House took steps to show that the president was busy working despite his diagnosis, with Biden tweeting out a picture of himself making calls from the Treaty Room of the White House.
The president spoke by phone to lawmakers in Pennsylvania to apologise for having to cancel his planned trip on Thursday to the city of Wilkes-Barre to promote his crime prevention plans.