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

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WASHINGTON — The White House confirmed on Saturday that the strain of coronavirus that infected President Biden several days ago is likely to have been BA.5, the highly contagious Omicron subvariant now comprising most 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 president's positive test on Thursday. He added that 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 although it does not make people sicker than previous variants, it spreads quickly and evades the immunity protection conferred by vaccines and prior infections.

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

President Biden at his desk with a pen in hand, smiling but bemused.
President Biden, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, is seen working in this photo released by the White House. (The White House via Twitter) (Handout . / reuters)

The president is also taking Paxlovid, a treatment that further reduces the possibility of severe or critical illness. And he will keep using "low dose aspirin as an alternative type of blood thinner,” having been forced to discontinue, 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.

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

O’Connor said Biden “is experiencing 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, which included reporters, that they should not make anything of his hoarse voice. "I feel much better than I sound," the president joked.

The following morning, the coronavirus was still taking a toll on his vocal cords.

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