Why didn’t Biden disguise himself?
The White House announcement came on the heels of Biden’s four-day visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the sixth international trip of his presidency.
The president met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials indoors for extended periods without masks, a move that may have exposed him to the virus.
“We follow the protocols of the countries we visit,” said a White House official.
That shows how the willingness to take precautions has changed since the deadly winter wave.
“As we begin to see more and more fatalities and hospitalizations, everything about recommendations is now up in the air,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University.
Just last week, Biden’s top medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, called the brief exposure at a college reunion a “mistake” in the judgment that led to his Covid-19 diagnosis last month.
“As I did it, I said to myself, I hope I’m not making a mistake,” the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease said in an interview with POLITICO a week prior to the president’s case.
“White House protocols are rooted in and sometimes exceed CDC guidelines,” the White House official said, adding that people should still test for the virus before meeting the president. It is not clear whether foreign dignitaries were also tested during Biden’s trip to the Middle East. “The White House is a unique place to work, so we have several protocols in place to ensure our staff can work safely and effectively.”
What is a “mild” case for a 79-year-old?
Biden’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, said in… a memo On Friday, Biden had a slightly high temperature on Thursday night, but his symptoms have improved after his first full day of Paxlovid, a regimen of 30 pills taken over five days.
Still, Biden’s symptoms include a runny nose, fatigue, and cough. O’Connor also said Biden paused other medications, such as a daily blood thinner while on an antiviral. “The president has been fully vaccinated and boosted twice, so I expect he will respond favorably like most maximally protected patients.”
Although fewer people are dying from the virus than in previous waves, there are still disproportionate deaths and severe cases among older Americans, according to CDC data. The data is still pouring in on the highly transmissible sub-variant BA.5, which quickly became the nation’s dominant strain, prompting federal health officials to call for each adult to be given a new booster.
Biden’s case resembles that of 81-year-old Fauci, whose symptoms – other than fatigue – resolved during his first course of Paxlovid. Fauci told POLITICO that he experienced a rebound from Paxlovid, testing negative for two days before the virus resurfaced, causing fever, fatigue and other symptoms. He then embarked on a second course of Paxlovid, which health experts are already speculating Biden could do.
Does all this mean the CDC guidelines need to change?
The government would risk a political response by asking states to impose new mask mandates, but public health experts say the surge caused by Omicron subvariant BA.5 requires stricter measures, including longer quarantine periods.
The president goes beyond “flawed” CDC guidelines to quarantine for five days after testing positive, then wear a mask for five days, saying he will test every day and not end the quarantine until he tests negative , said Eric Topol, a physician and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
Topol said the CDC should recommend a longer period of isolation: “It’s a real shame that the president’s isolation plan is different from the CDC’s recommendation.”
Many countries recommend quarantining for a week and testing negative for two days before ending isolation. The CDC changed its guidelines in December amid the original Omicron wave. Biden also follows wider White House protocol for staff and reporters who must test positive and must test negative before returning to the building.
The CDC did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the agency is considering changing its quarantine guidelines.
Richard Besser, the CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former CDC acting director, said that under ideal circumstances, everyone would follow Biden’s lead by waiting to test negative before coming out of isolation.
But he defended current guidelines recognizing that millions of Americans simply cannot afford to take shelter for a week or more.
“For many people, 10 days of isolation is a huge challenge,” Besser says. “Not everyone has the luxury of being able to do that.”
Instead, Besser said he favors federal officials encouraging people to wear higher-quality N95 and KN95 masks that have been shown to prevent the spread of the virus much better than cloth masks.
What is the risk for someone of Biden’s age who has been vaccinated and boosted?
Since being vaccinated and taking Paxlovid, Biden’s case is likely to remain mild, but scientists still understand relatively little about the long-term Covid-19 symptoms that affect as many as three in 10 people who have had the disease.
“I’d say his risk of hospitalization is extremely low,” said Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist who is also the editor-in-chief of public health at Kaiser Health News. “For me, that’s probably the most important question, whether he’s had Covid for a long time.”
Lung Covid is an umbrella term for a range of mild to severe symptoms, from breathing problems to brain fog and severe organ damage. The CDC is investigate whether the long-term illness can lead to death found 100 possible cases after analyzing death certificates in the past two years.
But it’s still hard to say what the current risk is for a senior who has been vaccinated and boosted, as health officials work to better understand the BA.5 variant and distill nationwide data on its severity.
“From the standpoint of immune escape, transmission, spread of infectiousness, it is the worst variant since the start of the pandemic,” Topol said. “The only reason we don’t see more deaths and hospitalizations is because we’ve built a wall of immunity against all infections, boosters, vaccinations and combinations of all that.”
Daniel Payne contributed to this report.