President Biden’s virus symptoms were almost completely resolved by Monday in the latest sign the hair-on-fire emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Mr. Biden, at 79, is of advanced age and ostensibly vulnerable to the virus’s worst effects. But his illness never really advanced beyond an occasional cough, elevated temperature and a stuffy nose, according to White House physician Kevin O’Connor.
Now, the White House is trying to convince the broader public it can balance normal life and the virus with the right amount of vigilance.
It pointed to Mr. Biden’s decision to get vaccinated and use an antiviral treatment while offering no apologies for going about his business without a mask.
“Almost everyone is going to get COVID,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We have the tools to ensure that people can go about their daily life and work. The president is fully vaccinated, twice boosted and is taking Paxlovid. His current health speaks to how people should avail themselves of boosters and treatments.”
Mr. Biden appeared in a series of virtual events Monday, and his team released a photo of him working the phones with his dog from isolation at the White House residence, hoping to demonstrate the illness didn’t disrupt his work schedule.
“His pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature remain absolutely normal,” Dr. O’Connor wrote in a daily memo. “His lungs remain clear.”
White House COVID-19 Coordinator Ashish Jha urged all Americans over 50 to get another booster if they haven’t had a shot this year.
He also said the administration will hold a summit on Tuesday to discuss the next generation of vaccines that could provide better protection against an array of variants or overall cases. It’s becoming clear the current vaccines may stave off severe disease and death but not pesky infections that upend work and social schedules.
A fast-moving variant known as BA.5 is zipping through the country and catching up with people like Mr. Biden, who somehow ducked the virus earlier while Vice President Kamala Harris, Cabinet members and top aides around him got infected.
Many Americans have been infected, too, and polling suggests many have already moved beyond crisis mode during the pandemic.
Nearly eight in 10 persons told Gallup in May they’ve returned to normal or somewhat normal activities, and a third said the pandemic was over completely.
The White House hasn’t gone that far, but it is using Mr. Biden’s mild illness to support its broader message on vaccination and Paxlovid, the Pfizer drug that is available to older Americans and those at high risk after consultation with a doctor or pharmacist.
“If I were in the White House the message would be: We can manage this pretty well,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. “We’ve come a long way but you have to be attentive. You have to be vaccinated. If you’re in that target group for the Paxlovid, you’ve got to get the Paxlovid.”
The U.S. has seen the White House battle COVID-19 in its upper echelons before, though the country is in a different posture than earlier in the pandemic.
Vaccines are widespread and many Americans have been infected at least once. Officials are prepping a booster shot campaign for the fall akin to the flu-shot push that the public knows and understands, foretelling a possible pattern in future years.
“These omicron variants are running around now in a population that’s very different than it was a year ago. So many of us have been vaccinated and experienced and recovered from COVID. The population immunity is now much improved. That accounts in part for the mildness of these infections and the fact we’re having many fewer hospitalizations,” Dr. Schaffner said.
“I call it getting to a point where we have a truce with the virus. We ought to be able to get it in check,” he said. “Every once in a while you get a burst of influenza. You get a bad season and get a lot of hospitalizations and deaths. We might see something analogous.”
A number of high-profile persons have been infected in recent weeks.
Besides Mr. Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci overcame COVID-19 as he serves as the face of the response. The 81-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had a bit of “Paxlovid rebound,” in which his symptoms flared again after his course of treatment, but his illness did not tip into severe disease.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and critical swing vote in the Senate, said Monday he tested positive for the virus and had mild symptoms.
“Unless we see mass influxes in ICUs and people on ventilators, I think people just going to suck it up, tolerate mild symptoms, take a few days off and then get back to business,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University. “But we can also get sucker-punched by variations that are serious and even lethal. Dealing with COVID is a crap shoot.”