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Biden Tests Positive For COVID, "Very Mild Symptoms"; First Lady Jill Biden Tested Negative This Morning; WH: Biden Has Started Taking Paxlovid After COVID-19 Diagnosis; Biden Tweets: "I'm Doing Great". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 21, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very, very busy news day with us. And we begin with major breaking news out of the Biden White House. The president this morning, testing positive for COVID-19.

The White House physician says the 79-year-old president is experiencing very, very mild symptoms, a runny nose and a dry cough. His plan traveled to Pennsylvania today is canceled. The president will isolate and work remotely until he tests negative, and he has already taken the antiviral medication Paxlovid.

Let's get straight to the White House, and our White House correspondent MJ Lee. MJ, what more do we know?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the feeling at the White House today is that the inevitable has happened more than two years into this COVID pandemic. The president of the United States testing positive for COVID. Here is what we know about his condition. We know that he tested positive this morning. His doctor says that he is only experiencing mild symptoms, as of this morning that includes a runny nose, some fatigue and the occasional dry cough.

Again, this is according to President Biden's doctor, and he is being prescribed Paxlovid. This is the antiviral medication that is said to be more effective if you take it as soon as you test positive. So again, this is the medication that the president is going to be on.

We obviously also know that he is going to be isolating for the time being. That means that he is not going to be seen in public. We've certainly not seen him today. But earlier today, we did see the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. And this is what she said about her husband's condition right now.


DR. JILL BIDEN, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY: My husband tested positive for COVID. 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 am keeping masks. And so, I'd like to go in and see the program here. Learning loss as an educator means a lot to me. So, thank you for being here today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming over. How are you doing?

DR. BIDEN: I am fine. Thank you.


LEE: This news, of course, has created quite a scramble at the White House this morning. A trip to Pennsylvania that the president was supposed to make this afternoon, that's obviously been canceled. We also know that the White House is in the middle of doing contact tracing right now to really figure out who are the close contacts that the president had in recent days to make sure that they are all aware.

And also, we know that the residents' staff, the folks who will be working at the residence as the president is in isolation, that is going to be kept to a bare minimum to sort of prevent other people being sort of exposed to the president while he is now testing positive for COVID.

Now, the White House has been emphatic that he is going to carry out all of his duties while he is in isolation. That means just doing his work over the phone or having zoom meetings with staff. And also, one thing that is important to know right now is that the Vice President Kamala Harris, she has tested negative for COVID. So, this is important context as well.

You know, the general sense that we are getting from White House staff, and also importantly, his doctor, is that he is vaccinated, he is boosted. So really, he is going to be fine. Again, that is the messaging that we are getting from the White House. This is a scenario that the White House really has been preparing for months and months. But again, sort of the inevitable that happening this morning, the president finally testing positive for COVID, John?

KING: To your point MJ about the president planning to keep doing his duties as you were speaking. The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeting out that she just spoke to the president. He reports that he feels fine. And he's doing work from isolation. MJ Lee, with the breaking news at the White House. MJ, thank you.

Let's get some important expertise and insights now from the former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, and Dr. William Schaffner. He is an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Wen and Dr. Schaffner, grateful for your time on this important day.

Dr. Wen, let me start with you. The president is 79 years old. He has been twice vaccinated. He has been twice boosted. The last booster was at the end of March. He is taking Paxlovid. The White House physician says, he has a little fatigue and an occasional dry cough that he started experiencing last night. This is obviously, it's not just any patient. It's a 79-year-old man who is president of the United States. What you've heard so far from the White House sound right to you?

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: It does, and I commend the White House for being so transparent. There certainly a big difference between how they're responding now versus with former President Trump. In this case, I do expect that President Biden is going to make a full recovery and that is symptoms are going to remain wild. And that's because the initial vaccination and the first booster already protects you very well against severe illness.


Then he got the second booster, and we know that initiation of the antiviral Paxlovid further reduces your chance of hospitalization and death by 90 percent. And so, of course, age is something that we worry about, individuals who are older have a higher risk for severe outcomes. But President Biden is optimally protected.

And I actually think that this should be a guidebook for what living with COVID looks like in the future, that we are going to get COVID. And so, we're all going to encounter it. And what we can do in preparation is to make sure that we are protected as much as we can through vaccination and boosters. And then, by taking the treatments as soon as we test positive.

KING: Dr. Schaffner, both of you Dr. Wen and Dr. Schaffner, it lived through us now, two and a half years of this. We're in the middle now of the variant, BA.5 variant. Everybody assumes that's what this is. We don't know that for sure just yet. But helped me through Dr. Schaffner, The White House says the president tested negative on Tuesday. Obviously, he was traveling on Wednesday and started experiencing a dry cough last night. When did he likely get infected? Maybe he didn't test positive until this morning. But obviously, he's had COVID and COVID has been with him for at least a couple of days, right?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES VANDERBILT UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: That's very likely, John. It's not clear when he became infected. He could have gotten infected before Tuesday and have a somewhat longer incubation period. But there are times when you're exposed, and you start to develop symptoms within 48 hours also. I think it will be very difficult to pinpoint exactly when it is he became infected.

But this is indeed testimony to the fact that this BA.5 variant we think that that's the most likely is so very contagious, and it can infect people who are previously vaccinated. And indeed, people who've had previous COVID, but those experiences the vaccine, and the previous infections really provide protection against developing severe disease.

And so, we expect the president with that protection from his vaccination and now having taken the antiviral Paxlovid, I think I agree with Dr. Wen. We expect him to do very well, although he may have a few days of fatigue, runny nose, cough and perhaps even some hoarseness.

KING: Put those symptoms Dr. Wen into context for us. Again, twice vaccinated and then twice boosted. So, two doses of the vaccine and then twice boosted. Runny nose and fatigue are those the normal symptoms for the current variant, are those the normal symptoms only if like the president, you are double boosted, including that most recent booster we're still inside of four months when people say it's most effective.

DR. WEN: Well, at this point, nearly all Americans are either vaccinated or they've had COVID or both. And so, when people get BA.5, the dominant variant at this point, they're going to get. Chances are these pretty mild symptoms, fever, fatigue, headaches, sore throat, runny nose, those are the common types of symptoms.

Now, I do want to set the expectation that when we as clinicians say mild, we're referring to people who are not sick enough to go to the hospital. Some people, even with mild illness end up having body aches and fevers, and just overall not feeling well for quite a few days. And they might say, well, that's not really mild.

But in our case, we really care about preventing people from becoming so ill that they ended up needing to be hospitalized. And that's what the benefit of vaccination and boosters do. And I think this is a call to action for everyone to know, what is their plan once they get COVID because it is something that we probably all will have to contend with.

And so, the fact that President Biden got Paxlovid immediately is really good. The earlier you start this antiviral treatment, the better and I hope that everyone has a plan for what they would do if they were to contract the Coronavirus.

KING: Dr. Schaffner, what is different if your patient is a 79-year- old man versus say a 35-year-old man. In the sense this 79-year-old happens to be the president United States, but are you looking for different things? are you monitoring more closely? Are you testing in a different way? What are you watching for? Is there a difference or is it the same?

DR. SCHAFFNER: Well, it's both. Obviously, the virus has its way with you, but with people of advanced stage, they are more likely to develop some of the complications, and to develop, as Dr. Wen said, more severe disease that requires hospitalization. So surely, we would monitor people like that much more carefully. And they would all qualify for Paxlovid administered absolutely as quickly as possible after the diagnosis has been established.

I am sure that they are monitoring, for example, the president's blood oxygen concentration. That can be done very easily with a little device on your finger. And they're watching him for the potential development of complications, which we don't anticipate will occur. But they're watching him carefully.


KING: And so, Dr. Wen, what else is happening around the White House? In the sense that again, the president traveled yesterday and sometimes we see the president masked. If we can show you some pictures of his travels yesterday. He's outside. He's moving along. He's shaking in Aeroplan, that's a picture Aboard Air Force One with Congressman Jake Auchincloss. You see the two of them unmasked, shaking hands.

What should the test be? If you were around the president in the last 24 to 48 hours, and you are unmasked, what are you thinking right now? Should you automatically get a test? Is it if you're with him for more than 10 or 15 minutes, sort of what's the new standard?

DR. WEN: Well, it's a little bit hard to say. So, I'll tell you what the current CDC guidelines are because the CDC guidelines are still referring to 15 minutes of cumulative exposure over a 24-hour period. And by that, they generally mean indoors without masks. But I think this case, given (Inaudible) this will be a five-day (Ph), even if you have a shorter period of contact, but let's say it was close contact.

Maybe you're hugging someone outdoors, I would say that that person should probably take the same precautions as well, which is if you are up to date on your vaccines, meaning you're up to date on your vaccines and boosters, you do not have to quarantine, even if you had substantial exposure.

So, someone for example, like the first lady, who presumably had very close exposure during the time that President Biden was infectious, does not need to quarantine and stay at home. But if she were to enter any public setting, she should be masked. And she as anytime that, somebody exposure has symptoms, they need to test immediately.

All of these individuals really should get tested. But now just in case, they also may have had COVID. But also, they should test in five days-time in order to see if they possibly could have gotten infected from President Biden and that exposure.

I think using an abundance of caution is always a good idea. And I'm glad to see that the White House is taking these precautions in terms of contact tracing to let people know that they should be using these precautions, masking in that period and also testing if they were exposed.

KING: Dr. Schaffner finally, we're told that the White House briefing later today, one either the president's physician or the COVID advisor, Dr. Jha will be there to lay this out for us perhaps, both we will see. If I'm your patient, I get a level of privacy, if I'm the president United States.

What do you think Dr. Wen complimented the White House for their transparency, especially compared to the last White House at the beginning of this conversation? What's the test now for the Biden White House? A, in terms of being transparent about the president's condition day-to-day. And B, maybe using this as Dr. Wen known as a teaching moment?

DR. SCHAFFNER: It is a teaching moment. And I think the president and the team around him are setting a good example for the rest of the country. We can all learn from that. And I also compliment them on their transparency. We need to know what's happening with our political leader.

KING: Dr. Schaffner and Dr. Wen, grateful for your insights. We'll continue this conversation, obviously in the days ahead as we learn more. And when we come back, much more on this breaking news. President Biden tests positive for COVID. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us live next.




KING: More now on today's major breaking news. The president United States Joe Biden, testing positive for COVID-19. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania who was supposed to be with the president later today, tweeting just moments ago, he just jumped off the phone call with the president. Casey says, "he sounded great and is in good spirits."

Let's get some insights now from our CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay is not just any patient, it's the president of the United States. The leader of the free world, the 79-year-old man, he's immediately on Paxlovid. I want to read you a memo from the White House physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor says, this morning is part of our routine screening program for the president.

The SARS-CoV that COVID virus was detected by antigen testing then confirmed in a PCR test. On questioning, Dr. O'Connor says the president told him, he's experiencing mild symptoms, mostly runny nose, fatigue and an occasional dry cough. Is that sound normal if you will for somebody who is double dose vaccine, double boosted?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That is sort of when you look at the overall efficacy or effectiveness of the vaccines, the idea that it would turn, what could have been otherwise more severe symptoms into something more-mild, I think is exactly what you would sort of expect. And you know, I think it is important to note when exactly his symptoms started, because that's going to give you some idea at least of how long they're likely to last.

KING: And one of the things we've learned, the president is now on Paxlovid, an antiviral medication that has proven to be very effective. The doctors say and preventing the major severe side effects or harmful effects of COVID-19. But there also are conversations at times about a " Paxlovid rebound." Explain that?

DR. GUPTA: Yes. So, this is an interesting point. I think what the data is pretty clear on with Paxlovid is that if you take this, it's pretty protective or helpful in terms of preventing someone from developing severe illness. If you look at some of the trial, data is 90 percent less likely to develop severe illness if you're on Paxlovid.

But what it seems to do as well, in some cases, maybe 5-6 percent of the time, it seems now you get rebound, which means you seemingly recovered, you tested negative and everything. And then a few days later, you test positive again and you may have symptoms again. This happened to Dr. Anthony Fauci, you remember, John. So, he thought he was fine. A few days later tested positive again, and actually said he was a little bit sicker the second time around.

So, that's something they got to keep an eye on as well. You know that it works well in terms of preventing serious symptoms, but it's almost like you're stretching out potentially, the duration of the illness. But one thing I just want to point out again, John, with the vaccines, there is so much protection there.

If you look last year 2021 around this timeframe, and look this year at this timeframe, the likelihood of dying, if you've been vaccinated and boosted was about 29 times lower than last year at this time. So, I think that the data is really clear and how protected he already is.

KING: So, help us as a teaching moment. A, is the president United States, the most high profile patient that you can have in American politics anyway, but B, in this moment of where we on this roller coaster we've all lived through for the past two and a half plus years. We have a new variant, cases arising just about everywhere. In the context of the moment, when you see the president United States out traveling, every American I think wants to get back to as normal a life as possible. Where are we?


DR. GUPTA: It's a good question, John. I mean, in some ways, if you just wanted to provide context and look at periods during this pandemic, where we were, in many ways better off than we are now. And we were still in pretty significant mitigation mode. We've become, I guess, we've become more tolerant, if you will of where we are right now, you still have, you know, lots of people becoming infected.

And we don't really know because most people who test at home don't report slop in the hospital, tens of thousands of people in the hospital, there's still lots of people dying every day. So, you know, when we go into the cooler, drier months, and this variant does seem to be pretty different than previous variants, which means that your previous immunity, either from infection or from vaccine may not be as protective. So, more viral transmission, perhaps less protection than waning of protection.

I think, you know, it's going to be concerning, I think, over the next few months. And whether or not things like indoor masking again, and indoor places is going to be recommended. There are some communities around the country that are already starting to do that. I think it's going to become more widespread, at least the recommendations will, whether people follow them, I think, you know, we've seen what's happened in the past with that.

KING: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, grateful for your time and your hustle on this important day. As we try to sort out, the president now America's number one COVID patient. Sanjay, thank you. And the president just tweeting moments ago as Sanjay was having the conversation with me. Folks, I'm doing great. Thanks for your concern. Just called Senator Casey, Congressman Cartwright, and Mayor Cognetti, and my Scranton cousins, to send my regrets for missing our event today. Keeping busy that from the president United States. More on this COVID issue with the president of the White House. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



KING: More now on today's major breaking news story and its fallout, the president of the United States testing positive for COVID-19. Just moments ago, we shared it before the break, the president United States there. That's the Treaty Room. It's the White House residents, an office the president uses when over in the residence. He's tweeting, that he's doing just fine that he just talked to the people in Pennsylvania he was supposed to visit today, expressing his regrets he can't be there.

The president's tweet following by just a couple of minutes, a tweet from his Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also saying, that she had just spoken to the president, and he is doing fine. Working from the residence. The White House clearly trying to project the image of yes, the president has COVID, but yes, the president is still going about his business just in isolation safely.

With me to share the reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, NPR's Franco Ordonez and CNN's Melanie Zanona. Franco, you covered the Biden White House. They took over of course, coming out of the whole campaign was about Trump bungled the COVID pandemic, put an adult in charge will make it differently.

We are now year and a half into the administration. We've seen even the Biden White House trying masks sometimes, but not always, travel when you can. What has been the big shift? And on this day, they always said they were prepared for this moment. What is the mood in the building today?

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, I mean, they have always been very rigorous as someone who has traveled with the president a lot. The protocols that are in place, have always been very extensive, testing, mask, everything. And they have indicated that they have been preparing for this for a long time. That said, you know, it's still going to be, you know, there's some stubbornness here.

I mean, he's a 79-year-old man, the oldest president in history. There is going to be some concern and some caretaking. I'm very interested in watching those tweets of him, you know, in the Treaty Room at his desk, because it's clear, they want to make their presenting. There's imagery here that they want to show that he's strong, that he's tough, that the symptoms are mild, and then he wants to go ahead and do his work.

KING: They also seem determined, needed to show that this is not the Trump White House where it was hard to get information. And we got conflicting information about Donald Trump's COVID case early on. Very quickly, a memo from the White House physician to the White House press secretary saying, here is what we know. Dr. Jha, the COVID coordinators, our Jeremy Diamond, our correspondent there ran into him. He said, president does not have a fever, just has a runny nose. And they're going to have doctors at the briefing later today. They seem determined to not only give the president saying, I'm feeling fine, but to give you the medical information to back it up.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. Very different from what we saw from the Trump White House. I think he tweeted himself at 1am in the morning that he had COVID, went through all sorts of theatrics of projecting strength that writing in his presidential motorcade with his - I think his mask was off and then arriving at the White House and ripping his mask off in dramatic fashion. I don't think we'll see that from this president.

But we do see this idea of projecting strength, this idea that I'm keeping busy. I will say that, you know, I think too many people sort of want to push through this illness and maybe it would be better just sort of listen to your body and just kind of rest, take a day off. I don't think Americans would mind that. But that's just a personal aside.

So, listen, this was inevitable for this president. I remember sitting around this table when Kamala Harris tested positive, and the White House coming out and saying listen, the president is going to go about his business, dot dot dot will likely get it.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. He can also really use this as an opportunity to make another push for vaccines and for boosters and remind the American public that we are not over Coronavirus. I mean it is still impacting our lives every day. It's worth pointing out that Bennie Thompson, the Chairman of the Select Committee tested positive for Coronavirus. He can't physically chair the hearing tonight. So, it could be used as a reminder for that.

KING: It could be, and just to make a point to those of you watching at home, everybody at this table. We do it every day.