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Biden tests positive for COVID, has mild symptoms, working in isolation

U.S. president taking Pfizer antiviral medicine

U.S. President Joe Biden has been fully vaccinated, including two booster shots, against COVID-19.    © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Joe Biden, the oldest person ever to serve as president of the United States, has tested positive for COVID-19, is experiencing mild symptoms and will continue working but in isolation, the White House said on Thursday.

Biden, 79, has a runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough, White House physician Kevin O'Connor said in a memorandum made public on Wednesday. He has begun taking the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, he said.

"He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

"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," she said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House will provide a daily update on the president's health, Jean-Pierre said.

Biden's administration is facing major challenges including soaring inflation and Russia's land assault on Ukraine. His popularity has dropped sharply over the past year. A Reuters/Ipsos survey completed on Tuesday showed 36% of Americans approve of his job performance.

Multiple members of Biden's administration and other senior figures in Washington have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months, including Vice President Kamala Harris in April, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

All have since tested negative and resumed working.

U.S. stocks briefly headed lower following reports of the president's diagnosis, with the S&P 500 dropping about 0.5% over the following 10 minutes. The index quickly retraced that loss and by midmorning was back to near the unchanged mark on the day.

Biden is tested regularly for the disease, and anyone who meets with him or travels with him is tested beforehand, the White House has said.

If given within the first five days of infection, the Pfizer antiviral drug Paxlovid that Biden is taking has been shown to reduce the risk of severe disease by nearly 90% in high-risk patients.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three nights in October 2020.

Biden is fully vaccinated and got his second booster shot in March. The risk of an unvaccinated person aged 65 and older being hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 is 10 times that of someone who has been vaccinated.

Unlike Trump, Biden consistently wore a mask when in public when case counts were high and before being vaccinated.

He also set up strict COVID-19 safety protocols at the White House, urged Americans to take the virus seriously, and campaigned for everyone to get fully vaccinated.

Biden has, however, stopped wearing a mask at public events in recent months, and the White House dropped its mask requirement ahead of his March 1 State of the Union Address.

Biden joins a roster of other world leaders who have contracted COVID since the pandemic started in early 2020.

Those include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Albert II, the prince of Monaco. All have recovered.

A month before he lost the 2020 presidential election to Biden, Trump was hard-hit by the virus. He, his wife Melania and other White House staff contracted it after the administration held an event for new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in September 2020.

Trump, then 74, was hospitalized on Oct. 2, 2020, and underwent aggressive treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in a suburb of Washington. His low oxygen levels alarmed his medical team.

The former president's previous physical showed he was in the obese category, which made him more likely to require hospitalization.

"We are in a very different place than the last time a POTUS got COVID," Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel, a physician and former member of Biden's COVID transition team, wrote on Twitter.

"Biden is fully vaxxed/boosted and reportedly on a therapeutic (Paxlovid) that significantly mitigates symptoms. If anything, this shows how contagious BA5 is. Feel better, @POTUS!"

Jean-Pierre said Biden had been speaking with his staff by phone and will continue taking part in meetings by phone and Zoom from the White House while he recovers. He will resume in-person work once he tests negative, she said.

Administration officials have acknowledged that Biden's regular contact with advisers and supporters could expose him to COVID-19.

However, the administration is keen to project a sense of normalcy as many Americans are returning to work and socializing with friends and family, officials have said. On Wednesday he traveled to Rhode Island and Massachusetts for a speech on climate change.

"We all knew this would happen, it was just a matter of time. Given the hectic schedule of the POTUS and the super high transmissibility of BA.5," Dr. Peter Hotez, a virologist and dean of Baylor College of Medicine's National School of Tropical Medicine, tweeted.

Biden's wife Jill tested negative on Thursday morning in Detroit and plans to maintain her full schedule of travel in Michigan and Georgia, according to her spokesman Michael LaRosa.

Prior to Wednesday, the president had spent a rare two days in a row with no public events following a trip to the Middle East. The White House said he had been participating in internal meetings throughout.

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