Biden was likely sick with BA.5 subvariant of Omicron, White House says


WASHINGTON — The White House confirmed on Saturday that the coronavirus strain that infected President Biden just days ago was likely BA.5, the highly contagious Omicron subvariant that now carries most of the new infections in the United States.

“The causative agent of the president is most likely the BA.5 variant,” said a Saturday morning letter from the president’s personal physician, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor, who has offered regular updates since the White House tested positive for the president on Thursday. He added that the confirmation, which came from preliminary genetic sequencing, “does not affect the treatment plan in any way.”

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BA.5 is now responsible for eight out of ten new coronavirus cases in the United States, and while it doesn’t make people sicker than previous variants, it spreads quickly and evades the immunity protection afforded by vaccines and previous infections.

Biden is fully vaccinated and has had two booster shots — a reminder, the White House has gone to great lengths to point out that inoculation remains exceptionally effective in preventing serious illness.

President Biden, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, can be seen at work in this photo released by the White House. (The White House via Twitter)

The president is also taking Paxlovid, a treatment that further reduces the risk of serious or critical illness. And he will “continue to take low-dose aspirin as an alternative type of blood thinner” because he was forced to stop while on Paxlovid, the prescription heart medication he had been taking. The president, who suffered from asthma when he was younger, is also using an albuterol inhaler “as needed” for coughing.

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“His symptoms continue to improve,” O’Connor’s letter said, describing those symptoms as a sore throat, runny nose, cough and body aches. The president continues to isolate himself at the White House because he canceled his travel plans. And he continues to work, despite what most medical experts say is a need for rest when suffering from COVID-19.

O’Connor said Biden is “not experiencing any shortness of breath,” another encouraging sign that the combination of full vaccination and treatment with Paxlovid is having its intended effect.

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On Friday, Biden held a Zoom meeting with his economic advisers to reassure his audience, including reporters, that they shouldn’t mess with his hoarse voice. “I feel much better than I sound,” the president joked.

The next morning, the coronavirus was still taking its toll on his vocal cords.

“His voice remains deep,” O’Connor wrote on Saturday.