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3 reasons Biden managed to avoid getting COVID until now, according to infectious disease experts

Jake Epstein,Hilary Brueck   

3 reasons Biden managed to avoid getting COVID until now, according to infectious disease experts
  • President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, the White House said.
  • Despite his demanding social schedule, Biden got COVID-19 over two years into the pandemic.

President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, becoming the second US president to get infected by the virus in as many years.

The White House said in a statement that the 79-year-old — who is fully vaccinated and twice boosted — is experiencing "very mild symptoms" and taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Despite Biden's age — making him more vulnerable to infection — and the many people he meets with as part of his job, experts say he likely managed to avoid getting sick for over two years of the pandemic because he routinely wore a mask, tested frequently, and stayed up-to-date with his vaccinations.

BA.4 and BA.5 make it extra hard to avoid COVID now

It's "certainly possible" that mask-wearing and frequent testing helped Biden avoid getting infected for so long, Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director of infection prevention at the University of Washington Medical Center, told Insider.

"I do think this reflects that the nature of his job — and that of many Americans — makes it almost impossible to avoid Omicron entirely, but there are clearly measures that people can take to decrease their risk," Cohen said.

"There are just very, very high rates of COVID transmission right now across many communities in the US. And I think him getting COVID reflects that."

The nation is averaging over 126,000 daily new cases and has seen a steady rise in infections since late-March, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fueling the current rise in cases are the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which can better evade protection from vaccines and reinfect individuals more easily and quickly than previous versions of the virus.

Cohen said there is "very, very strong data" that show it's important to be fully boosted in order prevent severe outcomes from COVID. He stressed that the BA.5 variant is "really adept" at permeating social groups and seeking out those who are vulnerable.

Dr. Michael Klompas, an infectious disease expert at Harvard Medical School, agreed. He told Insider it's "not that surprising" Biden finally tested positive.

He echoed Cohen, saying "aggressive" testing of those around the president helped protect Biden until now.

But Klompas also said there's "a lot" of COVID going around, and Biden is not always "wearing a mask as he interacts with people" these days.

"He's clearly in a sort of more permissive state now compared to what he was doing before," the doctor said. "He seems to interact with a lot of people recently."

After Biden's positive test was revealed Thursday morning, the president tweeted a photo of himself without a mask at his desk, and said: "Folks, I'm doing great."

A letter from Kevin O'Connor, Biden's physician, said the president's positive test came during a "routine screening" and his "mild symptoms" include a runny nose, fatigue, and the occasional dry cough.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden will stay in isolation for at least five days until he gets a negative COVID-19 test.

Cohen and Klompas said they expect Biden's illness shouldn't last too long.

"I have every expectation that like most people who have COVID these days — in the context of vaccination — you'll have a few days feeling lousy, and then it'll be okay," Klompas said. "A healthy and vigorous person with 4 shots — his risk of a bad outcome's incredibly low."


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