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President Biden tests positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden has tested positive for COVID-19. The White House said in a statement this morning that he is experiencing mild symptoms. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Tam, what else can you tell us about the president's condition at this moment?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, we just got a letter from his doctor, Kevin O'Connor. He said that they tested the president this morning as part of a routine screening. He was positive on a rapid test, so they confirmed it with a more sensitive PCR test. His symptoms include a runny nose, fatigue, and he had an occasional dry cough that started up last night. He has already started treatment with Paxlovid. That's the drug cocktail that dramatically reduces the chances of severe outcomes from COVID and lessens symptoms, lessens typically the length of the disease. He's fully vaccinated, has two boosters, and he's also 79 years old, the oldest president in American history. So that does put him in the high-risk category. That is why he immediately qualified to start a course of Paxlovid. And we should just say that this comes at a time when I'm sure you and I know people who are positive with COVID. It is - the U.S. is in another wave - in fact, the world is in another wave with the BA.5 variant of omicron.

MARTIN: Very, very transmissible, although it doesn't lead to as high a rate as hospitalizations or severe disease. So the president, Tam, was just meeting and greeting a whole lot of people on this foreign trip he was on, right? I mean, do we have any sense if that's where he contracted it?

KEITH: The timing would indicate that seems kind of likely. But, you know, you never know exactly where someone got COVID. We will say, yes, that he was in Israel and Saudi Arabia. He was on those long flights. The White House had said he was not going to shake hands to avoid COVID risk while over there. But he did shake hands. He obviously gave a fist bump to the Saudi leader, and he got close to a lot of people, and he was generally not wearing a mask. Then he came back here to the U.S. and he was largely out of sight for three days, which is pretty unusual. The White House insisted nothing was amiss, and then they announced that he had tested negative for COVID on Tuesday, but, you know - and so he traveled yesterday, in fact.

MARTIN: Right. Former President Trump got COVID - right? - in the fall of 2020, kind of early on in the pandemic. Can you remind us how that was handled?

KEITH: Yeah. So they announced it - he announced it in a tweet at 1 a.m. He had been traveling, attended a debate and he got really, really sick. And I just have to say that it's a big deal when the president of the United States gets COVID any time, but now is a different time. There are vaccines, and there are treatments like Paxlovid that simply weren't available when Trump got it. He ended up at Walter Reed Military Medical Center being treated, including with oxygen.

MARTIN: OK. Again, the news President Biden has tested positive for COVID-19. The White House says his symptoms are mild. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.