With COVID-19 closing in on Joe Biden, the White House is furiously defending its social distancing protocol and bracing for the possibility the president may get it himself.
A slew of high ranking Cabinet members, communications staff, Democratic senators, Biden’s sister, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris have all tested positive for coronavirus in recent days.
Pelosi got it just two days after Biden embraced and kissed her on the cheek at a White House ceremony — an encounter officials insist does not count as close contact with a COVID carrier because it didn’t last 15 minutes.
An unmasked Biden and unmasked Harris both appeared at an elaborate event on Friday celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s elevation to the Supreme Court.
Harris’s communications director tested positive for COVID this week and she was in close contact with him, but it didn’t prevent her from attending the ceremony. And Harris did not wear a mask after having close contact with her COVID-stricken aide.
If all this had happened under Donald Trump’s watch, he would have been pilloried for spreading COVID and being irresponsible.
“It is possible he (Biden) will test positive for COVID at some point,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield acknowledged.
White House officials say they are taking extra precaution to protect Biden, but it doesn’t look like it.
If Biden were to contract COVID, it would be a huge setback to the president’s efforts to keep the disease under control and stay in charge.
The question now is what will happen if Biden does test positive? The odds are he’ll just get mild symptoms but what will the political damage be?
Will he need to be hospitalized? The president is 79 years old with a history of health problems that could make him vulnerable to a serious bout with the disease.
If he is hospitalized or even goes into quarantine for five days, will Harris take over as acting president? The media will demand to know who gave COVID to Biden, but chances are we won’t know.
Would getting COVID put Biden in a position of weakness at a critical time in the world? Biden is already dealing with a crisis in Ukraine and political problems at home like rising gas prices that have sent his approval numbers tumbling to record lows.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has battled COVID twice, spent much of the daily briefing on Thursday and Friday defending the White House’s actions and dismissing the possibility that Biden could test positive because of his close proximity to Pelosi and others.
Psaki claimed Biden was not considered a “close contact” with Pelosi because the kiss didn’t meet CDC standards for a close contact — a claim which seems ludicrous at face value.
“The way a close contact is defined, it’s not arbitrary, it’s not something made up by the White House, it’s CDC guidelines, and how they define it is being within six feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. They were not.”
Biden nevertheless was tested late this week and came out negative, and he’s expected to get regular tests over the next few days and weeks.
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