His wife decamped to Delaware, bringing with her their new short-haired tabby cat. Staff inside the executive mansion have been reduced to the most essential staff, whom Biden feared might contract the highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus that likely infected him.
And even the trolley of video equipment rolled into the second-floor treaty hall, phone calls from his grandchildren and a stack of books about Ireland couldn’t stop the cabin fever from setting in. install.
“I’m only a few hundred yards away,” Biden told visitors from South Korea on Tuesday, who listened to him speak on a screen in the Roosevelt Room. “I could watch from the balcony and yell at you!”
At the end of the meeting, he took off his jacket and climbed onto the Truman Balcony to do just that.
“My wife is not here,” Biden explained hours later. “She usually takes it out in the morning while I’m training upstairs.”
On Wednesday, Biden had tested negative on two antigen tests and was released from solitary confinement, although he will have to wear a mask for 10 days. His first stop: La Roseraie de la Maison Blanche to talk about his experience with the disease.
For a White House whose operations were designed – from its earliest days – to keep the septuagenarian commander-in-chief from falling ill, Biden aides saw the disease as a sign that even the most protected person can fall with Covid and be okay.
Early in his term, Biden’s meetings were held with the smallest groups of officials possible, all of whom wore color-coordinated wristbands to indicate they had been tested for the coronavirus that day. Masks were required everywhere on the grounds of the White House during the early months of Biden’s administration. Travel outside of Washington was rare.
The president’s inner circle was so small that when a long line of Washington officials — including the vice president, secretary of state, attorney general, speaker of the House, and several high-level Biden aides, including the press secretary and national security adviser — have tested positive, none have been determined to have been in “close contact” with Biden.
Worries about the president contracting Covid were partly rooted in his age; at age 79, he is at greater risk of serious illness. But some Democrats have also wondered how getting sick might affect Biden’s political standing, given growing questions about whether he’ll be too old to serve a second term.
Still, life in the bubble did not sit well with Biden, who resented the limitations placed on a job he had sought for the previous four decades. Outward signs such as state dinners and medal ceremonies have been suspended. And perhaps most infuriatingly for the famous tactile president, visitors were few and far between.
Restrictions began to ease as vaccines became available and the virus began to decline. Even bouts of variant-driven resurgence haven’t stopped Biden from starting to live more freely.
He shook hands before and after the event, but didn’t linger long given the scorching sun and high temperatures. But this was an exception; as he begins to travel more across the country, Biden spent up to 45 minutes greeting the audience with handshakes and hugs after his speeches.
By the time he returned to the White House on Wednesday evening, however, he began to feel tired. A restless night and two tests later, Biden became the second sitting US president to test positive for Covid.
His symptoms – runny nose, sore throat, high temperature, body aches – were all rated as mild, which the White House attributed to his four doses of the vaccine. But the rules were still the rules, and Biden entered the required period of isolation as his team began executing a plan they had in place for months, starting with a quick public announcement.
Many White House staff only learned from this disclosure that the president had Covid.
“We have said for some time that there is a substantial possibility that the President – like anyone else – could catch Covid, and we have prepared for that possibility. We are now executing our plan so that the President may continue to work from residence,” Chief of Staff Ron Klain wrote in a memo to staff hours after the initial statement.
Facing reporters this week, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was joined by White House Covid response coordinator Dr Ashish Jha, instead of the doctor who actually attended to Biden. Jha, who had not examined the president, had FaceTimed with him throughout his illness and received updates from presidential physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor.
Reporters protested that they were not allowed to interview O’Connor directly. Jha said neither Biden nor O’Connor had explicitly decided not to ask O’Connor to give the briefings himself.
O’Connor, a retired Army colonel who treated Biden for several years, is not a seasoned presence on television or in public question-and-answer sessions, an official said. He has a loose, joking manner with Biden and other top officials — sometimes using humor to get through serious times, including when Biden’s son Beau was diagnosed with cancer — but doesn’t normally engage. not with the press.
However, Jha regularly appeared as a medical commentator on Covid before joining the White House earlier this year.
During former President Donald Trump’s fight with Covid in 2020, then-White House physician Dr. Sean Conley briefed reporters from the steps of Walter Reed National Medical Center, where Trump was hospitalized .
Conley, it was later learned, obscured the severity of Trump’s illness during his briefings. It wasn’t until former chief of staff Mark Meadows released his White House memoir that it emerged that Trump’s oxygen level had dropped to around 86% – dangerously below normal.
O’Connor, in daily written updates distributed by the White House Press Office, did not disclose Biden’s oxygen status beyond saying that his “oxygen saturation continues to be excellent.” to ambient air”. He also described Biden’s pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate as “normal” without disclosing numbers.
White House officials said those vital signs were recorded throughout the day and never diverged from normal levels. And they argued that because the president’s symptoms were mild, their level of transparency was appropriate.
“We’ve provided, I think, an extraordinary amount of transparency about his care: when he tested positive; how he’s been doing each day; the changing nature of his symptoms: is his runny nose any worse, a little better ?” Jha told reporters on Monday. “For example, we’ve been very, very open and transparent with all of this data.”
The White House was forced to cancel a series of out-of-town events, including a political rally in Tampa, Florida, which had been seen as something of a start for the president’s upcoming midterm message.
A speech to a group of black law enforcement officials that Biden had planned to deliver in person in Orlando has gone virtual instead. He used the address to accuse his predecessor of cowardice in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a statement aides once hoped he would deliver to a large and supportive audience.
Instead, Biden recorded the speech from the Treaty Hall, where he had spent much of his days in solitary confinement. The video released by the White House on Monday was edited in multiple places as Biden continued to shake off his cough.
By Tuesday, however, Biden’s voice had mostly lost its rasp.
“I hope I look as good as I feel,” Biden told a group via video conference. “I never look this good. I hope I look as good as usual, which isn’t so good.”