KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday. President Joe Biden continues to test negative after recently recovering from the virus but will wear a mask indoors for 10 days as a precaution.
The Bidens have been vacationing in South Carolina since Aug. 10, and the 71-year-old first lady began experiencing symptoms on Monday. Jill Biden, like her husband, has been twice-vaccinated and twice-boosted with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.
“Close contacts of the First Lady have been notified,” her communications director, Elizabeth Alexander, said in a statement “She is currently staying at a private residence in South Carolina and will return home after she receives two consecutive negative COVID tests.”
The president tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said, but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days. He plans to return to Washington on Tuesday to sign Democrats' landmark climate change and health care bill in the afternoon, before continuing to his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
"Consistent with (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance because he is a close contact of the First Lady, he will mask for 10 days when indoors and in close proximity to others," the White House said. It said it would increase the president’s testing cadence and report those results.
When administered within five days of symptoms appearing, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been proven to bring about a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease. But it also is associated with a higher incidence of rebound infections — like the one Joe Biden recovered from on Aug. 7 — in which patients test positive again days after the drug helps them clear the initial infection.
Joe Biden's cases had kept the first couple apart for more than two weeks.
After more than two years and more than 1 million deaths in the United States, the virus is still killing an average of 411 people a day in the U.S., according to the CDC. The unvaccinated are at far greater risk, more than twice as likely to test positive and nine times more likely to die from the virus than those who have received at least a primary dose of the vaccines, according to the public health agency.
The highly transmissible omicron variant is the dominant strain in the U.S., but scientists say it poses a lower risk for severe illness to those who are up to date on their vaccinations. Omicron’s BA.5 substrain, believed to be even more contagious, now makes up more than 88% of U.S. cases.
Follow AP's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
Zeke Miller, The Associated Press