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At This Hour

U.S. President Joe Biden Tests Positive for COVID-19. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news.

As we've been reporting, President Biden has tested positive for coronavirus. The White House says that the president is experiencing mild symptoms right now, has begun taking a course of the anti-viral drug, Paxlovid, and he is fully vaccinated and twice boosted.

Let's get back over to the White House to get an update from CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, what is the latest you're hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We just received a letter from President Biden's physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, confirming the news that the White House put out, saying that President Biden has tested positive for COVID.

Dr. O'Connor writes that the president tested positive this morning as part of our routine screening program. He says he tested positive on an antigen test and that was confirmed via PCR testing.

Dr. O'Connor confirmed what we reported on air just last hour, which is that the president is experiencing mild symptoms, including runny nose, fatigue, with an occasional dry cough, which Dr. O'Connor said started yesterday evening.

I spoke to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's coronavirus coordinator. He said the president last night went to bed feeling mostly fine but did not sleep well and tested positive this morning.

Dr. O'Connor, the president's physician, is also writing here that the president is, quote, "fully vaccinated and twice boosted, so I anticipate he will respond favorably, as most maximally protected patients do."

The president is also starting this treatment of Paxlovid, the gold standard in care for coronavirus. It is best taken early on in the course of infection, which appears to be the case here, given the fact that we know he last tested negative for coronavirus on Tuesday, so just two days ago.

And this morning now testing positive. Dr. O'Connor writes he will keep the office of the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre updated with any changes in his condition or treatment plan. That letter now being released to us here in the media.

Of course, President Biden is double boosted. He received his last booster on March 30th. But President Biden is of an older age, 79 years old. So obviously, there are always concerns with somebody who is older, who gets coronavirus.

But he's in a much better position, of course, than when the last president, president Trump, tested positive for coronavirus. At that time, president Trump had not been vaccinated because vaccines were not available to the public.

We know that former president Trump at the time was rushed to Walter Reed Hospital. This appears to be a very, very different situation, with these very mild symptoms being described.

President Biden as of now, is isolating inside the White House residence. The White House says that he will be continuing to work, engaging in meetings and phone calls via Zoom and over the telephone. We also heard from Dr. Jill Biden speaking on her husband's condition. Listen.


DR. JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to him just a few minutes ago. He's doing fine, he's feeling good. I tested negative this morning. I am going to keep my schedule. I am, according to CDC guidelines, I'm keeping masked.


DIAMOND: Obviously, it's very notable that it's only now that President Biden has finally tested positive for the coronavirus, at a time when so many Americans have themselves or know somebody who has tested positive for the virus over the course of this pandemic.

Part of that is due to the White House's very rigorous coronavirus protocols. We know that advisors who meet with him daily are tested in the morning via antigen tests and they usually wear N-95 masks when meeting with the president in the Oval Office.

President Biden has been out and about far more in recent months, meeting with supporters, greeting them, participating in photo lines. He also had that foreign trip last to Israel and Saudi Arabia.


DIAMOND: So a lot of potential for the president to come in contact with people and now he's tested positive for coronavirus this morning.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you.

In the meantime, Dr. Megan Ranney joins me. She's an emergency physician an academic dean of public health at Brown University.

And CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner was a medical adviser to the George W. Bush White House.

Dr. Reiner, White House says it's very mild symptoms.

Do you expect it to stay that way?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I do. Those are the typical symptoms for a vaccinated, doubly boosted (INAUDIBLE) what's most likely BA.5.

The White House said he tested positive en route to screening but the president is sympathetic. So whether he was scheduled to have a screening test today, they would have tested him anyway with the symptoms he reported.

BOLDUAN: In this letter that was just released from Dr. Kevin O'Connor, laying out what you said. Dr. O'Connor says, "I have recommended initiating such treatment."

How critical is it to begin taking Paxlovid early on?

REINER: Paxlovid remains a very effective therapeutic for reducing the progression of mild to moderate disease, to severe disease. It dramatically reduces the risk of death by 90 percent.

It works best when started within five days of symptom onset. We know President Biden tested negative on Tuesday but it's almost certain that the president was already infected at the beginning of this week.

Frequently, people will develop symptoms and test negative for a couple of days with the antigen test. We know that Kevin O'Connor, Dr. O'Connor, not only tested President Biden with a rapid antigen test but confirmed it with a PCR test. But likely he was infected earlier in the week or even this past weekend.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Ranney, what is your reaction to hearing this news of the president testing positive?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: To be honest, I'm not hugely surprised. We know that the newest Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5 are tremendously transmissible, are able to evade so much of our natural immune system's response, whether induced by vaccines or prior infection.

And President Biden has been out and about. He's been traveling internationally. Although they have wonderful precautions when he's home in D.C. and at the White House, when he's been out internationally, he's been exposed to folks that are not necessarily following all of those precautions.

So not hugely surprised. I'm also quite hopeful. This is a very different situation from the one we were in when former president Trump was diagnosed with COVID. President Biden is vaccinated and twice boosted. That in and of itself decreases his risk of severe disease, hospitalization or death by somewhere between 60 percent and 90 percent, depending on the study.

You add onto it Paxlovid, which reduces, even in vaccinated people, reduces that risk of hospitalization by another 80 percent to 90 percent. And chance of anything bad happening to him is virtually zero.

But this reminds us of why it's so important to remember that COVID has not disappeared from the United States. It has not disappeared from the world.

We do still need to continue to take precautions, whether it's being vaccinated and twice boosted, whether it's knowing if you are eligible for Paxlovid, whether it's masking or and, thank God, Biden is not in this category, but for folks that are immunosuppressed, having access to preventive treatments like Evusheld is critical, because the virus is still out there.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Reiner, you have been a medical advisor to the White House.

What is the White House medical team doing right now?

REINER: First of all, making sure that the president gets the standard of care. There can be a tendency to try and treat a VIP differently.


REINER: But what this White House is very likely doing is treating him the way any 79-year-old vaccinated, doubly-boosted patient would be treated.

The White House also at this point will be trying to contact trace folks that the president has been in contact with over the last few days and get them tested. And they will be monitoring his symptoms closely.

The White House medical unit is staffed by fabulous physicians, nurses and physician's assistants and the president will have 24-hour monitoring at the White House. They also have the ability to consult any expert anywhere should the need arise.

But I expect that the president will have -- the president's mild symptoms will continue and that, sometime over the next several days, he will test negative again. One thing to watch out for is what we have seen --


BOLDUAN: I think we just -- we are having issues --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Dr. Ranney, I think what Dr. Reiner was getting at is rebound infection. We know that Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about, after taking a course of Paxlovid, he had a rebound infection after, I believe he said he tested negative for maybe three days.

Dr. Fauci then started experiencing mild symptoms again and testing positive.

What are -- what is the data out there of how likely a rebound infection would be?

RANNEY: I'm actually going to clarify, because I don't think of it as a rebound infection but rather the Paxlovid does its job of suppressing the virus, preventing all of those horrible side effects and organ damage that's caused by COVID. It avoids hospitalization and severe disease.

But because Paxlovid was approved for five days, what we are seeing is that, with these new variants, it's likely that the virus is kind of not fully eliminated but able to reemerge. That's why you're testing positive again.

But we're not seeing folks who end up with those severe symptoms with a need for hospitalization after taking Paxlovid. So the term "rebound" I don't like because I feel like it scares people away from taking Paxlovid. It's likely you would have had symptoms and been infectious for 10 or 14 days.

Paxlovid made you feel better for a bit, reduced the risk of those severe consequences of COVID. But then perhaps -- and I know there are folks looking into this -- perhaps the course needs to be longer for the new variants.

So it's not a negative side effect of Paxlovid but rather just COVID being a wily little virus that sticks around for a long time.

BOLDUAN: The focus is mild symptoms now; Paxlovid keeps those symptoms mild and that is entirely what the goal is at this moment with COVID and with the vaccines that we have.

It's good to see you both.

Coming up for us, what does the president's COVID diagnosis mean for his schedule and the people around him?

We are awaiting a briefing from the White House that will be happening. Much more on this breaking news ahead.




(MUSIC PLAYING) BOLDUAN: The breaking news, the President of the United States has

tested positive for COVID. The White House says that he's currently experiencing very mild symptoms. Biden is taking the anti-viral drug Paxlovid. He's 79 years old, we know, and fully vaccinated and double boosted.

Joining me right now for more is CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond and Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what does this mean for the president's schedule?

COLLINS: He had a pretty busy schedule. He was actually set to leave the White House in about an hour from now to go to Pennsylvania. That's when the White House was hoping he was going to make this big speech on his policies and his budget request to help bring down crime in the United States.

Of course, now that has been canceled. He will no longer go to that event nor the fundraiser in Pennsylvania tonight. Then he was planning to spend the weekend in Delaware with Jill Biden.

She tested negative this morning. She will go on to Delaware later today but President Biden will stay put at the White House, where he's isolating, working from that isolation period for the next several days, according to the White House.

Obviously, his doctor will monitor him closely. He says he thinks he will respond favorably to this Paxlovid treatment. Given what we heard from Dr. Fauci and other experts, it's critical to start taking that early on.

Since he just tested positive this morning, his doctor says it should work well for him. So we'll be watching to see if any of that changes with his condition.

And we are waiting on more answers from the White House on this. They've been very transparent so far, announcing he tested positive and releasing this letter from his doctor. We will hear from the COVID-19 response coordinator later on at the White House.

BOLDUAN: I was going to mention that, Jeremy. The White House has been really forthcoming with information so far, a briefing coming later today, where we anticipate much more information. But you're at the White House today.

What is the sense, the feeling at the White House?

How concerned are people?


DIAMOND: I don't know that people are all too concerned about his health, given the fact that he is double boosted at this point and beginning that course of Paxlovid.

But this is a moment many folks at the White House have been preparing for. It was almost viewed frankly as somewhat of an inevitability that he would test positive. He has been getting out there and increasingly so in recent months, where he's participating, as he did just yesterday, in photo lines with supporters, who asked for hugs and kisses.

So he's -- and it's remarkable it's taken this long for the president to test positive. Part of that is a credit for the protocols here at the White House as it relates to coronavirus.

People who meet with the president, whether they be supporters visiting the White House for a day or the president's top advisers, who meet with him every day, or members of the press, who are going to be inside the same room, all of those individuals have to be tested for COVID via an antigen test in the morning.

They get a wristband confirming that they have indeed been tested and tested negative. And on Air Force One as well, as when the president is here at the White House and indoors, people around him are wearing masks if they are in close proximity to him.

So there are a number of protocols in place. President Biden as of now is experiencing mild symptoms, according to the White House and the president's doctor, including a runny nose, a slight dry cough.

But I spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, who told me he had spoke within the president's physician and said, as of this morning, the president did not have a fever, which is obviously also a good sign.

That could change and that's why the White House has at this point committed to giving us daily updates on the president's condition. The first will come this afternoon, as the White House press secretary and Dr. Jha will brief the press.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, I'm remembering Jen Psaki being asked about the possibility of President Biden getting COVID when she was obviously at the podium still. She did speak to it as almost an inevitability, plans in place to how the president will operate and what the protocols will be. So this is something the White House was planning for.

COLLINS: It was something they sought to avoid but something they prepared for, given it is highly contagious. Everyone watching this knows someone who has gotten it. And so they said it is seen in the West Wing as inevitable that he would get it.

People thought maybe he would get it after the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he came in there unmasked and sat for some time, or at many of these events in the East Room. They are often tightly packed events, like the days before COVID-19 hit us.

So it was seen as kind of this inevitability inside the White House. You've seen a lot of the top advisers get it, as well. Secretary of state Blinken had it, Jake Sullivan recently had it. It's not like something the West Wing has been able to avoid.

That's what they will watch closely going forward, if any of his top aides that were traveling with him, he had several with them on Air Force One yesterday, that they'll have contact tracing for them.

And members of Congress and the Massachusetts state officials around President Biden yesterday, all of that will happen going forward.

This was something they sought to avoid but they saw -- this is something that is inevitable, they felt like, inside the White House. So I think it will be part of the messaging going forward.

We just found out that Vice President Harris has tested negative. That is a big question. My colleague says she has tested negative for COVID-19 today. So that's an update on the vice president.

BOLDUAN: And we'll have further updates and Jeremy and Kaitlan will be here for that. We'll have a briefing this afternoon on everything that we have learned so far and more about the president's diagnosis and plans going forward, as the president has tested positive and begun this course of Paxlovid.

Thank you, guys.

Much more on that breaking news coming up.

Also, we're going to turn our focus to the January 6th hearings. They return to primetime tonight. The committee is out with a preview clip of testimony from Trump White House insiders. We'll bring that to you, next.




BOLDUAN: We continue to follow the breaking news here in Washington. President Biden has tested positive for COVID. The White House says that he has mild symptoms, and also reports that he's now taking the anti-viral drug, Paxlovid.

We expect we'll be learning more on the president's condition at a briefing at 2 o'clock.