President Joe Biden tests positive for COVID-19, experiencing 'very mild symptoms' like cough

The 79-year-old president, who is fully vaccinated and received two boosters, is taking Paxlovid, the White House says.

ByEmily Shapiro ABCNews logo
Thursday, July 21, 2022
President Biden tests positive for COVID-19
President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday morning, his office said.

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time Thursday morning, his office said.

Biden, 79, has "very mild symptoms" and is taking Paxlovid, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Biden is experiencing a dry cough, runny nose and fatigue, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said. The physician to the president, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, said Biden's symptoms started Wednesday evening.

The president went to bed feeling fine but didn't sleep well and subsequently tested positive in the morning, Jha added.

Jean-Pierre said an update will be provided every day as Biden "continues to carry out the full duties of the office while in isolation" at the White House.

Close contacts, "including any Members of Congress and any members of the press who interacted with the President during yesterday's travel," will be informed on Thursday, Jean-Pierre said.

Biden traveled to Somerset, Massachusetts, on Wednesday where he announced executive actions to address climate change. Biden delivered his speech outside and met with local officials.

President Joe Biden greets people after speaking about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Somerset, Mass.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The president greeted Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska at the White House on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, greet Olena Zelenska, spouse of Ukrainian's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

"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.

The president will work in isolation until he tests negative, she said.

Biden was last tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, when he tested negative, she added.

Dr. Jen Ashton talks Bident COVID diagnosis:

Dr. Jen discusses President Joe Biden's positive test for COVID-19 on Thursday morning.

Biden is fully vaccinated and received two boosters; his second booster shot was March 30.

First lady Jill Biden tested negative Thursday morning in Detroit and will keep her full schedule in Michigan and Georgia through the day, her office said. She will continue following CDC guidance with masking and distancing, her office said.

Jill Biden said she spoke with the president Thursday morning and said "he's doing fine" and "feeling good."

"None of us is immune from it, including the president of the United States, and we need to be careful," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.

ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the biggest factor in treatment will be the president's age.

"That is why," she said, it's "no surprise that he's being treated with the antiviral pill Paxlovid. It's been shown in clinical trials to be 89% effective in reducing the risk of severe COVID-19 illness, meaning hospitalization or death."

Ashton stressed, "He is going to be closely monitored at the White House by the personal physician of the president, and if anything looks like it is going in the wrong direction, I absolutely expect that he would be hospitalized, if nothing else than for more close observation. But remember, the White House is not like your home or my home -- they can do a lot of medical monitoring and observation and testing right there."

Former President Donald Trump was briefly hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center in October 2020 after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Paxlovid, an antiviral pill developed by Pfizer, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those aged 12 and older in December 2021.

SEE ALSO: Why is the BA.5 COVID-19 variant so contagious?

The virus has evolved into a strain that is highly transmissible BA.5, that can sidestep immunity from previous Omicron infections and vaccinations, health officials say.

Patients take three pills twice daily over the course of five days. The pill was hailed as a game-changer because it was the first COVID-19 treatment that did not require an infusion, making it more convenient to give to patients.

Paxlovid is made up of two medications: ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV and AIDS, and nirmatrelvir, an antiviral that Pfizer developed to boost the strength of the first drug. Together, they prevent an enzyme the virus uses to make copies of itself inside human cells and spread throughout the body.

Although there have been increasing reports of a rebounding phenomenon after taking Paxlovid, Ashton said the benefits still outweigh any of the risks.

"What would be the worst-case scenario if President Biden took Paxlovid and got this so-called rebound phenomenon? Just more time being in isolation. The benefits are clear based on the clinical trials of what this drug can do in terms of reducing the risk of hospitalization and death, and that's why it is a straightforward and easy clinical decision to make to give him that medication," she said.

Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for COVID-19 in April. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a senior adviser to the president on the pandemic, tested positive last month.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

ABC News' Mary Kekatos and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.