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Biden tests positive for COVID-19, White House says

By Betsy Klein, Maegan Vazquez and Kate Sullivan, CNN

President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing "mild symptoms," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

The mild symptoms and diagnosis protocol for Biden -- a double-boosted 79-year-old at high risk for experiencing severe illness -- so far will mean "working and resting" at the White House for the rest of the day, according to a senior administration official. This is the first time Biden has tested positive for COVID-19, and he last tested negative on Tuesday, per Jean-Pierre. Vice President Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden have tested negative on Thursday.

"This morning, President Biden tested positive for COVID-19. He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms. He has begun taking Paxlovid," she said, referring to Pfizer's antiviral drug, which is available via emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in people 12 and older who are at high risk of severe illness. It requires a doctor's prescription.

"Consistent with CDC guidelines, he will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time," she added.

Harris is expected to keep her normal schedule. The senior administration official said there are no plans and no need to transfer executive powers to Harris -- as was done last November for 85 minutes, when Biden was under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy.

Biden did not have a fever Thursday morning, the White House's coronavirus coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told CNN. And Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the President's physician, wrote in a letter about the President's condition that Biden was "experiencing mild symptoms, mostly rhinorreha (or 'runny nose') and fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which started yesterday evening."

Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on an antigen test Thursday morning, part of routine screening, and later was confirmed by a PCR test, his physician said.

O'Connor noted that the President met the FDA's criteria for use of the antiviral Paxlovid, adding, "I anticipate that he will respond favorably, as most maximally protected patients do."

"I talked to him just a few minutes ago. He's doing fine, he's feeling good," first lady Jill Biden told reporters in Detroit.

The first lady, her spokesman Michael LaRosa told CNN, will keep her schedule on Thursday, which includes a stop in Georgia before heading to WIlmington, Delaware. She is also double boosted, LaRosa said.

Biden received his first two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ahead of his inauguration in January 2021, his first booster shot in September and his second booster vaccination on March 30.

Due to his age, Biden is at an increased risk for a more severe case of COVID-19, although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults being fully vaccinated and boosted significantly reduces their risk of hospitalization and death.

Jean-Pierre and Jha are expected to brief the press on the President's diagnosis later Thursday afternoon.

Upcoming presidential travel canceled

A White House official told CNN that Biden's scheduled travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, later on Thursday for a speech on crime prevention has been canceled. The plan for a subsequently scheduled Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Philadelphia has yet to be determined.

Biden was also scheduled to travel to Orlando and Tampa, Florida, on Monday. But Jean-Pierre said the President would be isolating at the White House "consistent with CDC guidelines."

Biden has ramped up his engagement with the public over the past year as the White House has shifted its approach toward the pandemic. On Wednesday, Biden traveled to Somerset, Massachusetts, for an event on climate executive actions, where he was seen shaking hands and greeting attendees in the outdoor crowd.

The President's positive diagnosis comes less than a week after a swing through the Middle East, where he held meetings with world leaders in Israel and Saudi Arabia. While abroad, Biden was seen shaking hands, bumping fists and embracing other leaders.

The White House is currently working on contact tracing for those who may have been close contacts of Biden, per an official, since his positive COVID test. They plan to inform any close contacts on Thursday, including members of Congress and the press.

COVID continues to affect Biden administration

A wave of cases among Cabinet members, White House staffers and members of Congress has swept Washington in recent months.

Vice President Kamala Harris contracted the virus in April. Harris is also fully vaccinated and double boosted and did not experience symptoms, according to her spokesperson Kirsten Allen. The vice president took the antiviral coronavirus treatment Paxlovid after consulting her physicians, according to Allen, and tested negative on May 2, leaving isolation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice were some of the highest-ranking Biden administration officials to test positive for COVID-19 after the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington in April. The President also attended the dinner and delivered remarks. All of the roughly 2,600 guests were required to be fully vaccinated and show proof of a negative test on the day of the event.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Merrick Garland, jean-Pierre, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and several others tested positive through the spring.

White House officials had acknowledged it was possible the President would at some point contract COVID-19 but have emphasized the precautions being taken to prevent infection.

COVID emergency continues

The President's infection comes as COVID cases are once again on the rise in the US, driven by the most contagious strain of the virus yet -- BA.5. More than 1 million people have died of COVID-19 across the country since the pandemic began.

The Biden administration is continuing the COVID-19 public health emergency as it seeks new funding from Congress for treatments and vaccines. The public health emergency declaration allows many Americans to obtain free COVID-19 testing, therapeutic treatment and vaccines. Medicare has also relaxed the rules governing telehealth so that many more seniors can access such services during the declaration. And states are not involuntarily disenrolling residents from Medicaid during the declaration, in exchange for receiving more generous federal matching funds.

More than two years into the pandemic, Biden has become the second sitting US president to test positive for COVID-19. His mild symptoms so far stand in stark contrast to then-President Donald Trump's diagnosis before a vaccine was available in 2020 -- a COVID infection that led to a multi-day hospitalization at Walter Reed National Medical Center.

Trump announced on October 2, 2020, that he and then-first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19, months before any vaccines were authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Later that day, Trump was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent the weekend and received various treatments. Trump returned to the White House on October 5, 2020.

Biden last underwent an annual physical in November at Walter Reed. O'Connor wrote in a memo that the President remained "fit for duty, and fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations."

This story has been updated with further developments on Thursday.

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