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Biden tests positive for COVID-19 again, returns to isolation

US president has rare ‘rebound’ infection after treatment with Paxlovid; White House says he has no symptoms, ‘continues to feel quite well’

Illustrative: US President Joe Biden talks on the phone with his national security team from the Treaty Room in the residence of the White House in Washington, July 22, 2022. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP)
Illustrative: US President Joe Biden talks on the phone with his national security team from the Treaty Room in the residence of the White House in Washington, July 22, 2022. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 again Saturday, slightly more than three days after he was cleared to exit coronavirus isolation, the White House said, in a rare case of “rebound” following treatment with an anti-viral drug.

White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor said in a letter that Biden “has experienced no reemergence of symptoms, and continues to feel quite well.”

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Biden will reenter isolation for at least five days. The agency says most rebound cases remain mild and that severe disease during that period has not been reported.

Word of Biden’s positive test came just two hours after the White House announced a presidential visit to Michigan this coming Tuesday to highlight the passage of a bill to promote domestic high-tech manufacturing. Biden had also been scheduled to visit his home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday morning, where first lady Jill Biden has been staying while the president was positive. Both trips have been canceled as Biden has returned to isolation.

Biden, 79, was treated with the anti-viral drug Paxlovid, and tested negative for the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was then cleared to leave isolation while wearing a mask indoors. His positive tests put him among the minority of those prescribed the drug to experience a rebound case of the virus.

While Biden was testing negative, he returned to holding in-person indoor events and meetings with staff at the White House and was wearing a mask, in accordance with CDC guidelines. But the president removed his mask indoors when delivering remarks on Thursday and during a meeting with CEOs on the White House complex.

In this photo taken on July 14, 2022, US President Joe Biden wipes his nose after signing the guest book while visiting President Isaac Herzog at Beit HaNassi, the presidential residence in Jerusalem. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Asked why Biden appeared to be breaching CDC protocols, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “They were socially distanced. They were far enough apart. So we made it safe for them to be together, to be on that stage.”

Regulators are still studying the prevalence and virulence of rebound cases, but the CDC in May warned doctors that it has been reported to occur within two days to eight days after initially testing negative for the virus.

“Limited information currently available from case reports suggests that persons treated with Paxlovid who experience COVID-19 rebound have had mild illness. There are no reports of severe disease,” the agency said at the time.

When Biden was initially released from isolation on Wednesday, O’Connor said the president would “increase his testing cadence” to catch any potential rebound of the virus.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters on Monday that “the clinical data suggests that between 5 and 8 percent of people have rebound” after Paxlovid treatment.

Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid. (Courtesy)

Paxlovid has been proven to significantly reduce severe disease and death among those most vulnerable to COVID-19. US health officials have encouraged those who test positive to consult their doctors or pharmacists to see if they should be prescribed the treatment, despite the rebound risk.

Biden is fully vaccinated, after getting two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose March 30.

While patients who have recovered from earlier variants of COVID-19 have tended to have high levels of immunity to future reinfection for 90 days, Jha said that the BA.5 subvariant that infected Biden has proven to be more “immune-evasive.”

“We have seen lots of people get reinfected within 90 days,” he said, adding that officials don’t yet have data on how long those who have recovered from the BA.5 strain have protection from reinfection.

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