White House tries to make Biden’s COVID a ‘teachable moment’

WASHINGTON — For more than a year, President Joe Biden’s ability to avoid the coronavirus seemed to defy the odds. When he finally tested positive, the White House was ready. It was a question of making the diagnosis a “moment of learning” and of dispelling any notion of crisis.

“The president is doing what every other person in America does every day, which is taking reasonable precautions against COVID but doing his job,” said the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, at MSNBC late Thursday afternoon.

On Friday, the White House released a new letter from Biden’s doctor, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, saying Biden’s temperature registered 99.4 F on Thursday but his fever responded to acetaminophen and has been normal since then. . The letter also said Biden had normal pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation, but it did not provide specific measurements.

O’Connor said Biden was “tolerating the treatment well.” The president takes Paxlovid, an antiviral drug aimed at reducing the severity of the disease. Biden is still showing symptoms, including a runny nose, fatigue and a cough, he said.

On Thursday, the White House gave repeated assurances that Biden was working hard while self-isolating in residential areas of the White House with “very mild symptoms,” including a runny nose, dry cough and fatigue.

Biden, dressed in a blazer and Oxford shirt, recorded a video from the White House balcony telling people, “I’m fine, doing a lot of work. And, in the meantime, thank you for your concern. And keep the faith. It’s going to be okay.”

“Stay busy!” he also tweeted.

On Friday, Biden was scheduled to meet virtually with his economics team and senior advisers to discuss congressional priorities.

It was all part of an administration effort to shift the narrative from a health scare to presenting Biden as the personification of the idea that most Americans can contract COVID and recover without too much suffering. and disruption if they have received their vaccines and taken other important steps to protect themselves.

The message was designed to allay voter concerns about Biden’s health – at 79, he is the oldest person to ever serve as president. And he aimed to demonstrate to the country that the pandemic is far less threatening than it was before Biden came to power, thanks to widespread vaccines and new therapeutic drugs.

However, conveying that sentiment on the first day of the virus from Biden’s coronavirus experience wasn’t always easy.

During a lengthy briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly said the White House had been as transparent as possible about the president’s health. But she countered with reporters on specifics. And when asked where Biden could have contracted the virus, she replied: “I don’t think it matters, does it? I think what matters is that we are prepared for this moment.”

Jean-Pierre and the White House’s COVID-⁠19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, did not fully answer questions about whether Biden began isolating himself as soon as he began to feel feelings. symptoms Wednesday night, as federal guidelines suggest, or did after he tested positive. the next day. Jha declined to speculate on any aspects of the president’s prognosis, calling the questions speculative.

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 need to be careful about the virus, which continues to kill hundreds every day. .

“That’s the balance we have to find,” Osterholm said. “The President of the United States will do just fine. But that may not be true for everyone.”

Biden’s first-day symptoms were mild in large part because he is fully vaccinated and boosted, according to a statement released by O’Connor.

Jha said Biden’s case is a priority, meaning it will likely take less than a week for sequencing to determine which virus variant Biden contracted. Omicron’s highly contagious BA.5 substrain is responsible for 78% of new COVID-19 infections reported in the United States last week, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday.

Jean-Pierre said first lady Jill Biden was in close contact with the president, but declined to discuss others who may also have been exposed, citing confidentiality concerns. Biden had visited Massachusetts a day earlier to promote climate change efforts and had flown on Air Force One with several Democratic leaders, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

A White House official confirmed that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in close contact with Biden, and Klain said he was too.

Klain, who said he hoped the president’s test would be positive for the country, said the White House was not aware of any positive COVID results related to the president’s case.

During his briefing, Jean-Pierre bristled with suggestions that the Biden administration was not much more open to information about the president’s illness than that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. The former president contracted COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, before vaccines became available, and was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three nights.

“I totally disagree,” Jean-Pierre said of the comparison. “We are doing this very differently – very differently – than the last administration.”

Asked if Biden might need to be hospitalized, Jha stressed that the president is “doing well” and added that there are “obviously a lot of resources available here at the White House to take care of him.”

“Walter Reed is still waiting for the presidents. It’s still an option,” he added. “It’s true whether the president had COVID or not.”

Dr. Leana Wen, professor of public health at George Washington University, said it was good the White House was sending the message that Biden can continue to work even after testing positive.

“It shows that business is business as usual,” Wen said.

Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, noted that White House officials “have been preparing for this probably for several months now, given the percentage of people in the country who have tested positive.”

“What they need to do over the next two days is show him that he’s working and he’s still active and he’s president and I’m sure they probably will,” said PSAKI, who quit her job as White House press secretary in May, said on MSNBC, where she becomes a commentator.

Biden plans to continue self-isolating until he tests negative, the White House has said.

Dr Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said this could mean he “isn’t able to interact with people for at least eight to ten days”.

“It could easily go on for a few weeks, but the good thing is that they’re going to be watching it very carefully,” Topol said. “That’s what we should be doing for everyone so that we don’t keep playing the game of the virus, causing it to spread further when it’s already hyper-spreadable.”

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