Stalled by COVID, Biden wastes time on the track

President Biden’s COVID-19 diagnosis has scuttled his domestic travel plans, presenting another obstacle to the president’s efforts to come out and sell his accomplishments ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

Biden’s positive case prompted the White House to cancel – so far – planned trips to Pennsylvania and Florida, two key battlegrounds. Biden has sought to get out on the road more since the start of the year, but his domestic travel plans have also been limited by trips abroad and his focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It’s unclear exactly how long Biden, who has mild symptoms, will remain in isolation.

The White House has said Biden will remain isolated for at least five days and stay away from people until he tests negative for the coronavirus. That means he could resume in-person activities as early as Wednesday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines call for a 10-day quarantine, but they say individuals can shorten that quarantine to as little as five days if the patient is asymptomatic. Those coming out of isolation early must wear face masks.

“I think ten days is probably a good estimate to say,” said Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center who served in the Department of Health and Human Services under former President Obama. “I think they’re probably conservative right now.”

Biden’s treatment with Paxlovid, an antiviral used to lessen the severity of COVID-19, adds to questions about how long his quarantine will last. Some patients who used the antiviral treatment, however, experienced a rebound in symptoms, which could potentially prolong Biden’s isolation.

Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in some cases patients can test negative and then several days later test positive again.

“These cases posed a great challenge and confusion about what to do,” Osterholm said.

There’s also still a chance Biden’s case could get worse, though experts say that’s unlikely given he’s up to date on his recalls and receiving Paxlovid.

“I think we have every reason to be optimistic,” Osterholm said, noting Biden’s only risk factor is his age.

The White House will want to get Biden back on the road as soon as possible, while also making sure to protect his health and that of those around him.

“When it comes to his schedule. We’ll see how the president does — he gets better,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday, noting that Biden has been working actively during his isolation. “He’s still doing the president’s job.”

Biden has attempted to cross the country in an effort to let voters know about Democrat successes under his leadership, such as the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the U.S. bailout. He was expected to tout Pennsylvania’s bipartisan gun reform law on Thursday before testing positive.

His trip there was also an opportunity for the president to push for more measures to support police, tackle crime and strengthen gun violence prevention efforts, which Democrats and advocates have been calling for. .

Biden was also scheduled to travel to Florida on Monday to headline a conference hosted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Either way, his diagnosis has disrupted plans for Biden to appear at in-person Democratic National Committee events — seen by donors as key to the party as he seeks to raise more money ahead of midterms. Jean-Pierre said on Friday that the president was “not worried” about missing such political events.

“I’m sure he would prefer to be in the country discussing the successes of his administration, but like any responsible person, he will do what he needs to do to recover quickly and safely, without endangering others,” said former Rep. Chris Carney. (D-Pa.), a Biden ally.

“It seems almost impossible for a public figure to avoid COVID these days, especially a public figure as active as President Biden,” Carney added.

White House officials have acknowledged that Biden’s COVID-19 diagnosis is still a possibility, given the major in-person events he has attended in Washington and on the road.

“It’s something we were preparing for,” Jean-Pierre said on Friday.

The administration stressed that Biden can do his job from anywhere and isolation at home will not prevent him from working. Civil servants have become accustomed to working remotely during the two-and-a-half-year pandemic; Biden phoned at least three meetings Friday to hear updates on national security issues, gasoline prices and legislative priorities.

“He was elected during a pandemic in which Republicans tried to mock him for wanting to be COVID-proof from his ‘basement’ and he was still able to effectively communicate a message to the American people. So I think that kind of a break for him, away from domestic travel, doesn’t change the fact that his views … are still strong,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.

Others, however, argue that the president’s trips haven’t been particularly effective in helping to promote his successes anyway. His diagnosis of COVID-19 comes as his approval rating hit an all-time high for his presidency and surpassed the lowest ratings of the previous two presidents this week. A recent poll put Biden’s economic approval rating at 30%, 11 points below the low for former President Trump and 7 points below the low for former Obama.

“Based on his steadily declining polls, there’s no evidence the president has been particularly effective down the road in selling his accomplishments or breaking through,” said Bruce Mehlman, former assistant secretary in the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush.

Instead, Mehlman pointed out that Biden’s coronavirus diagnosis sheds light on the president’s age. Biden, 79, has faced lingering questions about whether he will run for president again in 2024, though he insists that is his intention.

“The biggest risk of his testing positive is reinforcing the ‘he’s old and weak’ narrative that critics regularly claim,” Mehlman said.

Still, the president’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, reported Friday that Biden’s mild symptoms were “improving.”

While Biden remains in Washington, First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Harris have been on the road. Harris will travel to Richmond, Va., on Saturday and to Indianapolis, Indiana, on Monday to meet with lawmakers and state leaders on reproductive rights. On Thursday, the first lady traveled to Michigan and Georgia to visit schools with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Seawright argued that administration members traveling when the president can’t is the best move to keep voters engaged and to tout White House successes.

“This is an opportunity for the White House and the administration to give others voices and give others their policy rollout materials,” Seawright said. “With the diversity of his cabinet, with the very many friends and extended family that accompany President Joe Biden, he has no shortage of talent or voice to come out and talk about the good work this president has done.”

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