WASHINGTON – It’s back to the White House balcony and the Treaty Room for President Joe Biden as he contends with a “rebound” case of COVID-19.
Trapped in the White House for the second time in as many weeks, the president knows the drill this time: He’s got an office in the residence and his dog Commander to keep him company while he governs by Zoom and FaceTime.
Biden's latest bout with COVID-19 came with a new wrinkle: how to announce a major counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan from isolation.
Biden, dressed in a dark suit and red tie, walked to a lectern that had been wheeled onto the balcony of the Blue Room on Monday evening and informed the American people of the killing of Ayman al-Zawahri, the top al-Qaida leader, in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan over the weekend.
The White House allowed just one print reporter to watch Biden deliver his speech, by looking through a window in the adjacent Red Room. A TV cameraman filmed the president and a still photographer took photos — a smaller footprint than the group of journalists that is usually at the president's appearances.
Biden’s initial COVID-19 diagnosis left him with a lingering cough and runny nose, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. His rebound case — labeled such because he tested positive on Saturday just three days after being cleared from isolation with two negative tests last Tuesday and Wednesday — has left him antsy about returning to a normal schedule.
Biden’s rebound disrupted a trip home to Wilmington, Delaware, to reunite with first lady Jill Biden, who has been there since Biden’s initial diagnosis. A trip Tuesday to Michigan to promote a $280 billion high-tech manufacturing bill he intends to sign was also scuttled.
Instead, Biden is stuck in COVID-19 isolation through at least Thursday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and perhaps longer under the White House’s stricter protocols, which require a negative test to return to work.
“He’s someone who likes to be out there with the American people,” said Jean-Pierre on Monday. “He’s looking forward to being out there again.”
White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor said in a Monday letter that the president “continues to feel well” this time around, even as he tests positive.
Shortly after Saturday’s announcement that he was returning to isolation, the president tweeted a picture of himself masked, tieless and signing a declaration that added individual assistance for flood survivors in Kentucky.
He followed up by tweeting a 12-second video of himself on a White House balcony with Commander.
“I’m feeling fine, everything is good,” said Biden, a pair of aviator sunglasses in his hand. “But Commander and I got a little work to do.”
Minutes later, he called Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough on FaceTime as he visited with people camping outside the U.S. Capitol in a bid for health benefits for military veterans exposed to toxic substances from burn pits during their service.
Biden tweeted that he had planned to visit the group in person on Saturday before he tested positive again, but instead sent McDonough with a delivery of pizza. He invited the advocates to the White House once he’s cleared by his doctors to receive visitors.
“It doesn’t stop him from doing his job and doing the work of the American people,” Jean-Pierre said of the president’s rebound infection.
During his course of isolation, Biden told reporters that his canine companion served as his alarm clock while the first lady was away.
“Matter of fact, my dog had to wake me up this morning,” he said last Tuesday. “My wife’s not here. She usually takes him out in the morning while I’m upstairs working out. And so, I felt this nuzzle of my dog’s nose against my chest about five minutes to seven.”
Biden has been working from the ornate second-floor Treaty Room or stepping onto the adjacent Truman Balcony overlooking the South Grounds and the Washington Monument.
A limited number of essential staff are with him in the residence, including security and medical personnel and a small number of aides, who remain masked for their protection. Biden’s usual in-person meetings, including his daily national security briefing, have shifted to virtual formats.
Plans for enabling a president to work in isolation were first developed when then-President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, which required him to be admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. As the highly infectious omicron variant spread and cases closed in around Biden, his administration refined plans for Biden to carry out his duties while isolating at the White House, according to two aides.
Biden, 79, was treated with the antiviral drug Paxlovid after he first tested positive on July 21. He tested negative for the virus last Tuesday and Wednesday, July 26 and 27, and was then cleared to leave isolation while wearing a mask indoors. His positive tests put him among the minority of those prescribed the drug to experience a rebound case of the virus.
The CDC says most rebound cases remain mild.
Jean-Pierre said 17 people initially identified as close contacts of Biden when he first tested positive, as well as six people deemed at risk from his rebound infection, have continued to test negative for COVID-19.