WASHINGTON — The White House confirmed on Saturday that the coronavirus strain that infected President Biden a few days ago was likely BA.5, the highly contagious Omicron subvariant that now comprises most of the new infections in the United States.
“The president’s causative agent 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 confirmed the positive test of the president on Thursday. He added that the confirmation, which came from preliminary genetic sequencing, “does not affect the treatment plan in any way.”
BA.5 now accounts for eight out of 10 new coronavirus cases in the United States, and while it doesn’t make people sicker than previous variants, it is spreading rapidly, evading the immune protection provided by vaccines and previous infections.
Biden is fully vaccinated and has had two booster shots — as a reminder, the White House has gone to great lengths to point out that inoculation remains extremely effective in preventing serious illness.
The president also takes Paxlovid, a treatment that further reduces the chance of serious or critical illness. And he will “continue to use low-dose aspirin as an alternative type of blood thinner” after being forced to stop taking Paxlovid with 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.
“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 in the White House after canceling plans to travel. And he continues to work, despite what most medical experts say rest is necessary if he is suffering from COVID-19.
O’Connor said Biden “experiences no shortness of breath,” another encouraging sign that the combination of full vaccination and treatment with Paxlovid is having the intended effect.
On Friday, Biden held a Zoom call with his economic advisers, reassuring his audience, including reporters, not to take his hoarse voice for granted. “I feel much better than I sound,” the president joked.
The next morning, the coronavirus was still taking a toll on his vocal cords.
“His voice remains deep,” O’Connor wrote on Saturday.