Doctors: Biden’s symptoms improving
WASHINGTON — COVID-19 symptoms left President Joe Biden with a raspy voice and cough as he met Friday via videoconference with his top economic team. But the president tried to strike a reassuring tone, declaring, “I feel much better than I sound.”
Biden took off a mask and sipped water as he opened the meeting to discuss the decline in gas prices in recent weeks. Reporters were allowed into a White House auditorium to view a few minutes of the proceedings, and when they asked how Biden was feeling, he flashed a thumbs-up.
The president’s doctors said his mild COVID-19 symptoms were improving and he was responding well to treatment, as the White House worked to portray
the image of a president still on the job despite his illness. He received his presidential daily security briefing via video call while, separately, Chinese President Xi Jinping wished Biden a “speedy recovery.”
Biden had an elevated temperature of 99.4 Thursday, but that went down with Tylenol, according to a new note from Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the president’s personal physician. Biden also used an inhaler a few times but hasn’t experienced shortness of breath.
The president completed his first full day of Paxlovid, the antiviral therapy treatment meant to reduce the severity of COVID-19, and Biden’s primary symptoms were a runny nose, fatigue and a loose cough. Other metrics, such as pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation were normal, O’Connor said, although the White House did not release specific figures.
“The president is doing better,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha,
who spoke to the president via video call, said during a Friday briefing with reporters.
He noted that Biden was in a good mood, had slept well, and ate a full breakfast and lunch.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden told her he was working “8-plus hours a day.” She said 17 people were determined to have been in close contact with Biden when he might have been contagious,
including members of his senior staff. None have tested positive, she said.
Jha said Biden will remain in isolation in the White House living quarters for five days and then be tested anew. The president plans to return to work once he tests negative.
“He is getting world-class treatment, exactly what you would expect,” Jha said, while also noting that “All Americans have easy, free access to the same worldclass
treatment that he’s getting.”
Once Biden tested positive Thursday, the White House sprung into action, aiming to dispel any notion of a crisis and to turn his diagnosis into what chief of staff Ron Klain said he hoped would be a “teachable moment.”
The White House released a photo Friday of Biden, masked and tieless, in the Treaty Room of the president’s residence, on the phone with his national security advisers. After the economic team meeting, he was planning a separate discussion with senior White House advisers to discuss legislative priorities. Jha said his hoarse voice might actually be a sign that he is improving rather than the alternative.
It was part of an administration effort to shift the narrative from a health scare to a display of Biden as the personification of the idea that most Americans can get COVID-19 and recover without too much suffering and disruption if they’ve gotten their shots and taken other important steps to protect themselves.
The message was crafted to alleviate voters’ concerns about Biden’s health — at 79, he’s the oldest person ever to be president. And it was aimed at demonstrating to the country that the pandemic is far less of a threat than it was before Biden took office, thanks to widespread vaccines and new therapeutic drugs.
Conveying that sentiment wasn’t always easy, though.
In the two briefings since the president’s diagnosis, Jean-Pierre has repeatedly parried with reporters over specifics. When pressed about where Biden might have contracted the virus, she responded on Thursday, “I don’t think that that matters, right? I think what matters is we prepared for this moment.”
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said it’s important for Americans to know they must remain careful about the virus, which continues to kill hundreds of people daily.
“That’s the balance that we have to strike,” Osterholm said. “The president of the United States will do very well. But that may not be true for everyone.”
Biden’s case is being prioritized, and Jha said Friday that it’ll likely be next week for sequencing to determine which variant of the virus Biden contracted.
Omicron’s highly contagious BA.5 substrain is responsible for 78% of new COVID-19 infections reported in the U.S. last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest data released Tuesday.