WASHINGTON — President Biden tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, raising health concerns for the 79-year-old president and underlining how the virus remains an ongoing threat in a country trying to stop the past pandemic.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Mr Biden had “tested positive for Covid-19. He has been fully vaccinated and boosted twice and has very mild symptoms.”
Kevin O’Connor, the president’s physician, said in a letter released by the White House Thursday morning that Mr. Biden was suffering from fatigue, a runny nose and an occasional dry cough.
“I expect he will respond favorably, as most maximally protected patients do,” wrote Dr. O’Connor in the letter.
The president is receiving Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to minimize the severity of Covid-19, Ms Jean-Pierre said. He will isolate himself in the White House but “continue to fully perform all of his duties during that time,” she said.
The president was scheduled to fly to Pennsylvania on Thursday to give a talk on gun violence and then to his home in Wilmington, Del. where he was expected to stay for a weekend. White House officials said both trips had been canceled.
Jill Biden, the first lady, who also received two boosters, tested negative on Thursday morning, her spokesperson Michael LaRosa said.
Determined to maintain close contact with the president, the first lady is sticking to her travel schedule, which includes stops in Michigan and Georgia on Thursday, Mr. LaRosa said. But she will follow CDC guidelines with masking and social distancing. dr. Biden spoke to the president this morning.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was last with the president on Tuesday, tested negative, the White House said.
The president’s diagnosis was a moment when his aides and advisers had braced themselves for years. As a 2020 candidate, Biden took extraordinary steps to avoid getting sick at the start of the pandemic, holding “drive-in rallies” and avoiding the kind of in-person events that characterized life on the campaign trail .
As president, Mr. Biden remained severely isolated during his first months in office as the virus spread across the country. The number of employees he had contact with was limited. Members of the news media and others were regularly tested. Mr. Biden and his staff wore masks at all times.
More recently, however, as the number of people vaccinated increased and the pandemic eased, the president has largely resumed his regular activities. Last week, he returned from a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, where he shook hands and hugged many world leaders.
At home, Mr. Biden rarely wears a mask and has returned to hosting busy events in the East Room and elsewhere in the White House.
His positive test came amid a flurry of virus cases as the country grapples with new sub-variants that doctors say are highly contagious and can more easily circumvent the protection offered by coronavirus vaccinations.
Even as government officials and lawmakers in Washington reported infections, the president has continued to travel and appear at events, adhering to what his advisers said, guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mask guidelines issued by the District of Columbia.
In her statement, Ms. Jean-Pierre said officials would inform any members of Congress, journalists or others who would be considered close contacts with the president during a trip to Massachusetts on Wednesday.
“In accordance with the White House protocol for Covid positive cases, which goes beyond CDC guidelines, he will continue to operate in isolation until he tests negative,” she said in the statement. “Once he tests negative, he will return to personal work.”
Mr Biden is being tested regularly, officials said. The president’s last virus test was Tuesday, when he had a negative result, officials said Thursday.
It’s unclear exactly how Mr. Biden was infected, and White House officials declined to provide detailed information about who he had been in contact with in recent days. It is difficult to determine exactly how or when someone has been exposed to and infected with the virus.
Mr Biden had a series of close calls with the coronavirus before becoming infected. In March, he attended a gala event with Prime Minister Michael Martin of Ireland, who left the event after testing positive. Officials said at the time that Mr. Biden had not had close contact with Mr. Martin during the gala, which the CDC defines as being within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.
Mr. Biden also attended the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in May, and a number of those in attendance tested positive for the virus after that meeting, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
A wave of business also followed the Gridiron dinner, an annual gathering in Washington that took place a few weeks before the correspondents dinner. Among those who attended and later tested positive was Attorney General Merrick B. Garland; Gina Raimondo, the trade secretary; and Tom Vilsack, the agricultural secretary.
Mr Biden and his top officials have urged people to get vaccinated and get booster shots. The argument advanced by the president and his team is that the vaccine is highly effective at preventing infected people from becoming seriously ill or dying, even when breakthrough infections — such as Mr. Biden’s — occur.
The president and other Democratic lawmakers have urged Republicans in Congress to approve coronavirus emergency funds to ensure the United States can purchase new vaccines and therapies as the pandemic continues.
Mr Biden is the second president to be infected with the coronavirus. In October 2020, President Donald J. Trump tested positive at the White House and was helicoptered to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received steroids and other treatments.
Trump and his aides downplayed his symptoms at the time, but later reporting revealed that he was very ill while in hospital.
Noah Weiland and Katie Rogers reporting contributed.