WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 residential section of the White House and his dog Commander to keep him company while he governs by Zoom and FaceTime.
This time brought a new wrinkle: a “successful" counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan, conducted with Biden's authorization while he was in isolation.
On Monday evening, he was set to deliver remarks to the American people from the Blue Room balcony to announce the killing of Ayman al-Zawahri, the top al-Qaida leader, in a U.S. strike in Afghanistan conducted over the weekend, people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
Biden’s initial COVID-19 diagnosis left him with a lingering cough and runny nose, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. His second rebound case — labeled such because he tested positive on Saturday just three days after being cleared from isolation with two negative tests last Wednesday — has left him antsy about returning to a normal schedule.
Biden’s rebound case disrupted a planned trip Sunday to his Wilmington, Delaware, home to reunite with first lady Jill Biden, who has hunkered down separately since Biden’s initial diagnosis, as well as a Tuesday trip to Michigan to tout the recently passed $280 billion high-tech manufacturing bill.
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.”
Where Biden’s first go-round with COVID-19 kept him from his exercise routine for a few days, 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 had to return to isolation, the president sent out a picture of himself masked and tieless on Twitter, showing him signing a declaration that added individual assistance for flood survivors in Kentucky.
The president followed up by tweeting out a 12-second video of him 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 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough on FaceTime, who was visiting 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, on Twitter, said he had planned to visit the group in person on Saturday at the Capitol 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 7.”
Biden has been working out of the ornate second-floor Treaty Room, or stepping out onto the adjacent Truman Balcony overlooking the South Grounds and the Washington Monument.
A limited number of essential staff are around 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, from traditional phone call to secure video conferencing.
The Treaty Room has served multiple presidents as a study. It was Donald Trump’s work space in the White House residence and he had installed a large flat-panel television on which to watch cable news.
Plans for enabling a president to work in isolation were first developed when Trump tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, which required him to seek treatment at 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 and that severe disease during a rebound infection has not been reported.
Jean-Pierre said the 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 all continued to test negative for COVID-19.
Zeke Miller, The Associated Press