The White House on Friday delivered an upbeat update on President Joe Biden’s health, taking the opportunity to attribute his so-far mild bout with Covid to his vaccination status and treatment while encouraging other Americans to use these same tools if they catch the virus.
The president said he’s still putting in eight-plus hour days during his isolation period and was feeling better, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. White House Covid response coordinator Ashish Jha, joining the press secretary at the podium, said he FaceTimed with Biden on Friday, noting the president was in good spirits. Jha said he has also had multiple calls with the physician to the president, Kevin O’Connor.
“The president is doing better. He slept well last night. He ate his breakfast and lunch — fully. He actually showed me his plate,” Jha said to some laughs, as a reporter asked what was on the menu. “He joked that his one regret was that his appetite had not changed. Look, he was — he is — in a very good mood.”
The update from the briefing room comes during the president’s first full day of isolation in the White House residence after testing positive for Covid on Thursday. The positive news on Biden’s case tracks with O’Connor’s letter Friday morning, which reported an improved status.
The timing of Biden’s positive test also occurs as the administration has sought to project a new phase in the pandemic fight, one in which the country would learn to largely live with and manage the virus. Friday’s briefing bolstered that messaging, as Jean-Pierre passed along words she said were directly from the president. “It matters,” Biden said, reminding Americans to get vaccinated.
“Look, the president hopes the country will see that while we should continue to take Covid very seriously, we have the tools we need to deal with this. President Biden is benefiting from two vaccines, two boosters, and he's advocating for every American to take advantage of these vaccines and boosters,” Jean-Pierre said.
The president’s temperature rose slightly on Thursday night to 99.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which went down after he took some Tylenol for “discomfort.” He has completed his first round of Paxlovid, but still has a runny nose, some fatigue and now a “non-productive, now loose cough” the doctor’s letter said. His blood pressure and oxygen levels remain normal — though Jha didn't provide specifics on what these numbers were.
“He gets all of his vitals checked several times a day,” Jha said. “He’s not short of breath. He’s breathing fine.”
Biden has begun a small course of Aspirin as an alternative to his blood thinners while taking Paxlovid, Jha said. And due to Biden’s past experience with asthma, he is using an inhaler as needed — something Biden has used in the past when he gets colds or respiratory illnesses, Jha said.
Before the briefing, Biden participated in an economic meeting, which Jean-Pierre pointed to as part of the “active” schedule the president is maintaining.
His symptoms were noticeable during his remarks at the top of the virtual briefing. As O’Connor reported in his letter, Biden’s voice was a touch deeper, and he occasionally had to clear his throat while speaking. Before the press was escorted from the room, the president unwrapped and took what appeared to be a cough drop and gave a thumbs up to reporters when asked how he felt.
“I feel much better than I sound,” Biden said.
The White House medical unit has notified 17 people who are considered close contacts of the president per CDC guidance, the White House press secretary said. This includes White House senior staff and Massachusetts lawmakers who traveled with the president this week. So far, none of these contacts have disclosed positive tests.
O’Connor will continue to release detailed updates on the president’s health throughout the weekend, Jean-Pierre said, and the press will be notified of any changes in Biden’s condition. Journalists in the briefing room pressed the White House on why O’Connor hasn’t been made available for questioning.
“We feel that Dr. O’Connor’s statements and his detailed report on a situation, as the doctor just said is mild, very mild … is enough,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve answered this question many times.”
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