President Biden Has COVID

Despite every precaution, the 79-year-old leader of the free world is infected.

President Joe Biden talks on the phone with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Monday, May 9, 2022, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

WaPo (“Biden tests positive for covid-19, White House says“):

President Biden tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday morning and is experiencing “very mild symptoms,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Jean-Pierre said Biden has begun taking Paxlovid and will isolate at the White House, consistent with CDC guidelines.

Biden “will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time,” she said. “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 Biden would continue to work in isolation until he tests negative.

She said the White House Medical Unit would inform all close contacts of Biden during the day Thursday, including any members of Congress and any members of the media who interacted with him during travel Wednesday.

At this stage of the game, someone who comes into contact with as many people as Biden coming down with the disease seems inevitable. Given his advanced age, though, we’re naturally more concerned.

Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated and boosted, and as president has access to some of the best medical care in the world.

But elderly people often suffer more serious symptoms than younger individuals, and Biden’s positive test is likely to send tremors through the political world and the international community until the course of his disease is clearer.

He’s been cautious:

Throughout his presidency, Biden has taken precautions, including holding meetings via Zoom, wearing a mask during close encounters and conducting gatherings in a socially distanced manner. But the precautions were relaxed somewhat as the pandemic has begun to recede.

Despite covid-19 having increasingly seeped into Biden’s inner circle — infecting everyone from his family members to many of his top advisers — the president had, until Thursday, managed to avoid the illness.

The White House had strict protocols in place to help protect the septuagenarian president, often including masking and staying at least six feet from Biden when indoors.

As each new Biden aide or relative tested positive — Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and his daughter, Ashley Biden, to name a few — they were not deemed a “close contact,” and the president managed to avoid major exposure.

While myself and my family have, so far as I can tell, managed to avoid infection thus far, a huge number of friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances have not. And we’re a mostly-vaccinated bunch.

Obviously, I hope the President’s symptoms continue to be mild and that he recovers fully and quickly.

FILED UNDER: Health, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    I hope it’s a mild case and he’s well soon.

    My 86 year-old father just had it–fully vaccinated and boosted. He had a mild case and only after-effects appear to be a lingering cough.

    On the other hand, a much younger friend of mine–she’s 40–who was vaccinated but not boosted has been sick for weeks. She’s no longer testing positive, but she still feels awful and is very, very fatigued.

    2
  2. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Apparently Biden tested negative on Tuesday. Then he went to Somerset, Mass. on Wednesday and mingled with a lot of local officials. Today he has Covid. I didn’t know that it incubated that quickly. Or was the Tuesday test a false negative?

  3. KM says:

    Sadly, the chances for containment and a decent chance to avoid infection has passed. Idiots have destroyed our chance to stop a modern plague from dogging our grandchildren’s heel and a new entry in medicine’s problem pile.

    We are all going to get this at some point in our lives, likely more then once as new strains flourish. All we can do is hope it diminishes in strength as it goes and that our preventative efforts keep the worst at bay. Remember,99% of diseases are not fatal to the vast majority of the infected and humanity has come to terms with several perennial unwelcome guests. COVID is now one of them – in 40 years when I’m hospitalized for falling and breaking my hip, COVID will still be a threat we talk about regularly and complain how it’s taxing our systems.

    Be well, Mr. Biden. This thing’s no joke.

    1
  4. Jen says:

    @CSK: My guess is a false negative.

    I’ve heard way too many stories about people testing negative (even after they began to exhibit symptoms) for me to put much stock in the timing of the tests. My doc said she’s heard a lot of this. She recommended to me that if I ever started to feel symptoms, to start isolating then, rather than wait for a positive test.

    A friend of mine tested negative for five days after she started to feel sick (tested positive on the 5th day, backed up by a PCR test).

    1
  5. KM says:

    @CSK:
    May have been to early to register. It takes time for your system to build up enough pathogens to test – if you get tested for any disease hours after infection, you’ll show as negative. It needs to stew for a while to be widespread enough to detect.

    2
  6. CSK says:

    @Jen: @KM:
    Thanks. I agree with you both.

  7. Kathy says:

    At this point in the triple pandemic*, I count as a win avoiding the trumpy virus for this long.

    Given how many people Biden has to meet with, and the travel he’s done, he must have been doing well with precautions.

    * 1) the trumpy virus, 2) the stupidity keeping us from implementing the measures needed to stop it, 3) the authoritarian streak taking over the west.

    1
  8. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: Continuing to call a global pandemic that began in China the ‘Trump virus’ 18 months into Biden’s presidency is rather silly.

    9
  9. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t see why. Benito did more than anyone else to help it spread. Especially if you count his many populist/authoritarian imitators who took his lead. And to this day, his base is eager to share the stigma of their deity’s disease.

    6
  10. Gustopher says:

    @KM:

    Sadly, the chances for containment and a decent chance to avoid infection has passed. Idiots have destroyed our chance to stop a modern plague from dogging our grandchildren’s heel and a new entry in medicine’s problem pile.

    If the vaccines stopped people from getting infected, I would agree with you. As they do not, however, the alternatives are to keep everyone on earth isolated as much as possible, or find some level of precautions we can live with to cut cases but accept that this will be in the population.

    We’re not China. We can’t lock down entire regions indefinitely. China’s Covid Zero policy is the containment strategy that has a chance of working, Do you want that here?

    If the idiots took better precautions, we would have a lot less dead people (vaccinations do a great job against acute illness) and fewer cases overall (the more we learn, the more clear it is that this virus can fuck with you long term, and it seems to be cumulative, so that would be great), but the virus would not be contained. It’s simply too contagious (and the new variants are more contagious, and started in parts of the world we cannot control)

    Containment was never a long term option without vaccines that block spread. It was a good early strategy (that was screwed up badly) while we developed the tools to help mitigate it — including our very nice vaccines*.

    Since we learned that we cannot vaccinate our way out of this, and that it is super contagious, we’ve been in a mitigation game. The idiots are a huge hinderance there and that’s a perfectly valid criticism.

    I think it’s insane that we don’t have masking on airplanes, and a lot of indoor spaces. It’s not perfect, but it reduces spread. The people who politicized not wearing masks have blood on their hands.

    (If Donald Trump did not wear bronzer, how many people would be alive now that aren’t?)

    The directive for the infected to isolate for five days and then mask is terrible. It needs to be longer, and we need to financially support infected people so they aren’t forced to work through it. (Idiots would deliberately get infected for the money, wouldn’t they…)

    The CDC’s “let ‘we rip” strategy is awful. They’ve buried and de-emphasized the transmission data. And as we have shifted to mostly home tests, they haven’t supplemented the testing with wastewater testing to check community levels.

    ——
    *: The vaccines are amazing and have saved many, many lives. It’s disappointing they fade quickly and don’t stop infection, but they are really great.

  11. Jc says:

    Hmmm just back from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Insert conspiracy theory here.

    2
  12. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @CSK: It probably WAS a false negative. My cousin and her husband recently went on a cruise to Norway, but they spent a couple of days sightseeing in Amsterdam. They had both tested negative before departure. On the first full day of the cruise, her husband went to Medical to get two aspirin. He had to take another test, which revealed that he was positive, so he spent the entire cruise in isolation. Bummer. But I certainly hope the President recovers quickly.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: I’m with you. Epidemics are about math. If a disease falls below a certain level of transmissibility AND is not contagious until symptomatic, then we can stamp it out. More vigilance buys us something with respect to the level of transmissibility we can tolerate, but there is a limit. We probably could not have contained this with the original variant but given that every subsequent variant was double the transmissibility of the one before it and that they were all contagious before the onset of symptoms, there was no chance we could stomp this out. And vaccines are great, but the ones we have no longer prevent recipients from getting the latest version of the disease, although it is wonderful that they still seem to reduce the seriousness. I imagine the reason that Omicron took over so quickly was precisely because the vaccines were so effective in preventing transmission of the original and first few variants.

    For the past year, most of the people dying in the US fall into two groups. The elderly (well over 90% vaxxed and 98-99% in most non-trump states) who realistically are susceptible to any severe respiratory illness. And the deliberately unvaxxed who, while I may feel empathy towards them, are in the same category as people who drink and then go rock climbing.

    1
  14. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher: The people who politicized not wearing masks have blood on their hands.

    As do those who downplayed it, and still do so, and everyone who sows unjustified doubts about vaccines.

    In hindsight, it would have been better to begin with masking and distancing, as well as capacity restrictions in restaurants, theaters, temples, etc. Also encouraging work from home and virtual meetings. All this rather than lockdown.

    Not that lockdown didn’t help. It did. But with so many exceptions, and, as you point out, the impossibility of shutting cities down, lockdown was very limited in what it could do.

    I’ve mentioned nearly everyone at the office has caught COVID. Many found out while at work. This means I’ve been exposed. But I always wear a mask and keep distance as best I can. I’m also dealing with a mild case in my household, so I’ve increased distancing and masking there too. I’m still testing negative.

    To me, this proves how well masks work, even KF-94 masks of questionable provenance.

    Hindsight still helps us now. Like we should keep masking up in public, offices, etc. But even those who obeyed mask mandates before have stopped doing so now. It would help even more in the next pandemic, and there will be one.

    As things are, it will hopefully come when most of those who’ve lived through COVID are dead. because if we get one in 15 or 20 years, I can tell you how willing people will be to mask up.

    What we need, is a way to treat stupidity.

  15. EddieInCA says:

    @Jen:
    @KM:
    @CSK:

    I was fully symptomatic, with fever of over 102, and in bed for three days before I tested positive. I tested daily, with both rapids and PCRs, negative every day on both tests for three days while sitting in bed with a 102+ fever, chills, sweating, labored breathing. Fourth day I tested positive. Tested positive for four days as I got better, before a negative test on day 9 total. Been negative for four weeks. Brain fog lasted about another 10 days. And the cough finally went away last week. That cough lasted almost a month.

    My wife had the exact same timeline, but four days behind me.

    2
  16. EddieInCA says:

    @EddieInCA:

    As an addendum, it sucked. Anyone who says that “it’s just the flu” can go suck giant monkey balls. It was horrible.

    8
  17. Gustopher says:

    @KM: There’s also a high user-error rate with the tests, but I think there’s a decent chance that Biden has gotten hands on training (he also probably has the more sensitive fast-PCR tests rather than the cheaper ones that the peasants sporadically use)

    One of my frustrations with the way we’ve been handling this pandemic is that there hasn’t been enough community education on how to use a test with a high false positive rate. (Or even marks on the swabs with how far they should go in for a child and adult — they are more sensitive if they are put in a bit more than you want to.)

    There should be very clear guidelines that explain that this is one layer in preventing spread. It helps cut asymptomatic transmission.

    – Use the home test when you’re feeling fine, before visiting grandma
    – Don’t visit grandma if you’re feeling sick, regardless of test status
    – Use the home test when feeling sick to avoid having to go get a PCR, but if you’re still sick despite a negative, get the PCR so you can get paxlovid.

    I want flyers with flowcharts in every mailbox, and posters on every bus stop and in front of every Wal-Mart and Target.

  18. Franklin says:

    @EddieInCA: Oof, sorry you had it so bad! It’s just different for everybody – I have a super healthy friend in her 40s who’s been suffering from long Covid for over a year now, including the brain fog (as a doc, she had already been fully vaccinated at time of contraction). My personal experience, at risk of having to suck monkey balls, was that it was like a flu. Anyway, glad you seem to be over it now, and hope you don’t catch a future variant.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I’m just grateful for the few in our OtB community who were able to declare that wearing mask and staying out of restaurants and such were virtue signaling performative nonsense so that I could be confident that they were still important actions to take or avoid.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: It does seem to vary widely. Some colleagues who’ve had it said it kicked their asses and some had what amounted to a mild cold. Meanwhile, a younger colleague has been down for weeks with a severe case of shingles with no recovery in sight.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: “– Don’t visit grandma if you’re feeling sick, regardless of test status
    – Use the home test when feeling sick to avoid having to go get a PCR, but if you’re still sick despite a negative, get the PCR so you can get paxlovid.”

    So, basically all the stuff that we used to do with every illness before economic/employment insecurity gutted our ability to stay home when we’re sick? Got it!

    2
  22. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “Meanwhile, a younger colleague has been down for weeks with a severe case of shingles with no recovery in sight.”

    My wife spent almost six months barely able to move without excruciating pain thanks to shingles — what made it even worse is that the blisters never manifested until month six, so that none of the vast numbers of doctors who saw her could figure out what the problem was. We didn’t know if she’d ever be able to walk more than six steps again. Finally she saw a neurologist who got it right… and then she got the blisters. Truly a vile — and in this case terrifying — virus.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Continuing to call a global pandemic that began in China the ‘Trump virus’ 18 months into Biden’s presidency is rather silly.

    That’s why we can’t have good messaging. As soon as we exaggerate a little or swing a little low, or even tell God’s own truth, somebody like Kevin Drum, or Matt Yglesias, or Glenn Kessler, or James Joyner objects that we should be better than that.

    Oh no, you can’t say a ten year old got raped and pregnant and had to be taken out of OH for medical treatment. It may be true but you don’t have enough independent sources per my arbitrary standards. Or yes, it’s a fact of arithmetic that more American kids get shot to death than cops and soldiers combined but Biden shouldn’t have said so because that sounds so bad. Or the current – OK, we were wrong when we said they wouldn’t actually overturn Roe v Wade, but it’s so wrong to say they might reverse Obergefell. Republicans constantly blame Biden for stuff with no evidence except cum hoc, ergo propter hoc. Why are we supposed to politely bring bean bags to a knife fight?

    7
  24. Jen says:
  25. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Honestly, this is more “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen” than fact-checking. It’s not just that it’s unfair, it’s silly and, so far as I can tell, Kathy is the only one using it.

    2
  26. Jen says:

    @EddieInCA: I’m sorry you had it so rough with covid, but am glad you’re doing better.

    2
  27. Kathy says:

    @Jc:

    I don’t expect conspiracy theories that the Butcher of Riyadh gave Biden COVID.

    But if/when Biden recovers after “mild” symptoms*, without requiring a stay at Walter Reed, I fully expect conspiracies on the right. Maybe that Biden had a flu and not COVID, perhaps as false “evidence” that vaccines “work.” Or maybe that seeing how quickly and relatively easily he recovered from COVID, then obviously El Cheeto Benito was poisoned or infected with anthrax, naturally by one or mroe of the usual suspects, and tied to the “rigged” 2020 election.

    *One reason I keep a mask on at all times, is that the “mild” symptoms I’ve heard about sound worse than the bout of pneumonia I underwent in 1985.

    2
  28. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s like this:

    The day I refer to Benito the King of Covidiots without an insult or put-down, you’ll know something’s terribly wrong with me.

    BTW, the same goes for His Royal Majesty Manuel Andres the Last.

    3
  29. reid says:

    @Kathy: What I’m seeing on the right (secondhand) is that Biden once said that if you get the vaccine you won’t get covid, so “ha ha!” /NelsonMuntzVoice Or something to that effect. About as mature a response as you’d expect.

    2
  30. Mikey says:

    @Kathy:

    *One reason I keep a mask on at all times, is that the “mild” symptoms I’ve heard about sound worse than the bout of pneumonia I underwent in 1985.

    My mild symptoms were less severe than any common cold I’ve had. Sniffles and half a day of mild fatigue. I think I took Tylenol one time.

    The scary thing about COVID is one doesn’t know if they’ll have my experience or something far worse until they actually catch it.

    But we do know vaccination makes it far more likely they’ll end up on my end of things. I credit the vaccine 100% for my mild symptoms.

    3
  31. Kathy says:

    @Mikey:

    The scary thing about COVID is one doesn’t know if they’ll have my experience or something far worse until they actually catch it.

    Yes, that’s exactly the problem.

    And while vaccines make it less likely that it will be bad, there’s still a risk it will be bad. Therefore it makes sense to take few chances and wear a mask.

    1
  32. Kathy says:

    @reid:

    Breakthrough infections have been a problem since the Delta variant hit over a year ago.

    It’s taken the unhinged right this long to notice?

    1
  33. EddieInCA says:

    Oh… and I forgot to mention….

    I have no idea where I would have gotten. I started my symptoms at the end of a 8 day trip the the Redwoods in Northern California where it was my wife and I in our car, with no contact with, literally, anyone for 7 days. We hiked among the redwoods from Oregon to Santa Rosa, ate in our hotel room and drive thrus, with zero contact with people.

    No idea where I caught it or how.

  34. reid says:

    @Kathy: Yup. They mainly just love to think they caught the other team in a lie. How many times did we hear about “you can keep your doctor”? Gotcha! So tribal and sad.

    1
  35. Richard Gardner says:

    Kathy’s comments are typical Latin American – it can’t be our fault, blame the Gringos. Yes the USA was responsible for maybe 20% of what we are blamed for in 1950 (Banana Republics), but the Latin American countries are “adults” now. The Caudillos were responsible for the problems of their nations, not the CIA.

    I had a great discussion tonight at the local brewery (walking distance, but 100F so I drove the mile – typical July weather) with a local HS language instructor on the various dialects of Spanish (and Mayan). Plus the English of India (lakh).

    Meanwhile we’re (the western world) denying that China lied, millions died. China declared COVID in Wuhan December 31, 2019. The superspreader event was the World Military Games in Wuhan in Oct 2019 (check Canadian press).

    Statistical sampling of blood donations of seven states (CA, OR, WA, and 4 others) of “healthy” people Dec 15-Jan 15 2020 has over a 1% pos rate for Covid-19 before the first USA diagnosed case in Kirkland WA. I and many of my friend were very sick (flu?) early January 2020, negative flu tests. It is the most sick I’ve been as an adult other than quick food poisoning. We had Covid-19, but there were no tests then – I’ll give 90% odds I had Covid in January 2020 (WA). Then I had Omicron around Christmas 2021 (lab result, booster under a month before, was just a very runny nose) – I was exposed.
    Seriously the timeline of the start of Covid-19 is a lie. China lied, millions died. China virus.

    2
  36. Jen says:

    @Richard Gardner:

    Meanwhile we’re (the western world) denying that China lied, millions died.

    I don’t think anyone is denying that. It’s an authoritarian regime, no one with an ounce of sense would take what they said at the outset as the truth.

    What the previous administration should have been paying attention to was what China *did.*

    When a country that, to put it mildly, does not have the best worker/citizen safety track record shuts down all its factories, all of its rail travel and tells everyone to remain in their houses, maybe something’s up? That was the red flag and the indication that OUR administration should have started to take steps to mitigate spread.

    That, of course, wasn’t what happened. Trump rather famously downplayed things, telling us that there were a dozen cases and it would be gone before we knew it–no need to do anything at all. Of course, it would have been helpful if we hadn’t closed the regional CDC partnership office in Wuhan in September of 2019…

    3
  37. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    What the previous administration should have been paying attention to was what China *did.*

    That’s what matters most in everything.

    related, there’s this sense in the deranged right that placing blame on someone makes everything ok. It doesn’t matter if millions died, and if many more got sick, and if many will have long term consequences, or if the quality of life degraded. After all, it’s all China’s fault. That ends it.

    Doesn’t it?

    China bears a large share of responsibility for 1) trying to hide the outbreak and 2) not giving all known data to the rest of the world later (like person-to-person transmission). Benito also bears a large share of responsibility for 1) downplaying the problem, 2) doing little about it, 3) not even trying to lead on the issue, 4) obstructing mitigation measures, 5) setting terrible examples all the time like 5.1) holding crowded press briefings when distancing is indicated and 5.2) downplaying the need for masks by stating he won’t wear one, 6) not using the considerable powers of the federal government to obtain and distribute things like PPE, ventilators, and other supplies to where it was most needed in a timely manner, 7) a lot more, not the least of which is his suggestion to drink bleach to treat COVID.

    But it can all be blamed on China and that ends it.

    2