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White House COVID-19 coordinator urges Americans to get vaccinated after Biden tests positive

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Biden tests positive for COVID-19 03:14

Washington — White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre held a briefing on Thursday hours after President Biden tested positive for COVID-19, and emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted to decrease the likelihood of series complications from the disease. They also emphasized that it was always possible the president would eventually test positive, despite careful protocols.

"Because the president is fully vaccinated, double boosted, his risk of serious illness is dramatically lower," Jha said. "He's also getting treated with a very powerful antiviral and that further reduces his risk of serious illness. And it's a reminder of the reason that we all work so hard to make sure that every American has the same level of protection that the president has." 

Jha took an opportunity to urge everyone over the age of 50 who has not received a booster shot in 2022 to do so "now." He also encouraged people who do test positive for COVID-19 to check their eligibility for treatments.

"Obviously, we work hard to protect the president, make sure that he's been vaccinated and boosted, has access to treatments," Jha said. "We also have been working very very hard to make sure every American has access to the same things. Because every American deserves access to the best vaccines, the best treatments, and they are widely available." 

COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jha Joins Press Secretary For White House Briefing
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House on July 21, 2022. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Jha said medical officials don't expect the president to develop additional symptoms at this point. He's breathing well and his oxygen level is normal, Jha said. The White House is working to contact every person who qualifies as a "close contact" of the president, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 

Jean-Pierre emphasized that the White House always said the president could test positive.

"We knew this was going to happen," Jean-Pierre said. 

Jha echoed that this was always a possibility, even with consistent White House protocols.

"There was never I think an understanding on our part that we could keep the president from having zero chance of getting infected," Jha told reporters. "He's got very close, very strong protocols around him. But we always knew that this was a possibility."

Jean-Pierre said the White House will have "daily" updates from the president's physician. Jha said the president will continue to isolate in the residence until he receives a negative antigen test, and Jean-Pierre said the president will continue to work from the White House residence until then. 

Moments ahead of the briefing, the 79-year-old Mr. Biden tweeted a video from the White House's balcony saying he's only experiencing mild symptoms and it's "going to be OK." 

"Hey folks, guess you heard, this morning I tested positive for COVID," he said in the video. "But I've been double vaccinated, double boosted, the symptoms are mild, and I really appreciate your inquiries and concerns. But I'm doing well, getting a lot of work done. Going to continue to get it done. And in the meantime, thanks for your concern and keep the faith. It's going to be OK."

Thursday's positive test marked the first known time the president, who is fully vaccinated and double boosted, has contracted COVID-19. The president has begun taking the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, according to Jha and Jean-Pierre.

Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the physician to the president, said the president tested positive during routine screening, a result followed up with a PCR test. He's experiencing a runny nose, fatigue, and the occasional dry cough, O'Connor said. 

"The president is fully vaccinated and twice-boosted, so I anticipate that he will respond favorably, as most maximally protected patients do," the physician said in a letter to Jean-Pierre Thursday. "Early use of PAXLOVID in this case provides additional protection against severe disease." 

Biden's physician says president has "mild symptoms" 01:27

Both first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris tested negative Thursday, the White House said. Harris was last with the president on Tuesday, and is currently in North Carolina. She will remain masked, in step with the White House medical team's advice. Harris contracted the virus in April. 

The first lady is expected to return Thursday to Delaware after her trip to Detroit. 

The White House says that in addition to the Pennsylvania politicians Mr. Biden spoke with by phone, he spoke with Rep. Jim Clyburn to wish him a happy birthday and congratulate him on a NAACP medal Clyburn received Wednesday night. 

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