When the White House announced on Monday evening that first lady Jill Biden had tested positive for COVID-19, it was a reminder that, as much as Americans want to put the pandemic completely behind them, the coronavirus continues to circulate — and is doing so more aggressively now than it has in months, with new Omicron subvariants becoming more prolific throughout the summer.
For most people, the virus is not as terrifying or as deadly as it was three years ago, but it is still potent enough to make people sick for several days and disrupt their plans.
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White House hunkers down
In the summer of 2022, President Biden contracted COVID-19 for the first time. Because he was fully vaccinated and was being carefully monitored by White House physicians, he experienced only mild symptoms and recovered quickly.
First lady Jill Biden also tested positive at the time — and didn’t get seriously sick. Since then, the Bidens have generally lived as if COVID-19 were behind them, traveling extensively and hosting large indoor gatherings.
President Biden allowed the COVID-19 national emergency to end last spring, a move decried by some public health professionals.
Now, the administration is intent on demonstrating that a high-profile infection like the first lady’s is not a reason for alarm. “We know that we’ve made historic progress in this nation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday to reporters, who peppered her with questions about the president’s own status.
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Biden is negative (so far)
Jean-Pierre said that Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on both Monday evening and on Tuesday. The president is expected to travel to India later this week for the G20 summit, but a coronavirus infection would obviously disrupt those plans.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Jean-Pierre said that as a precaution, Biden would wear a mask for the first time in months — and would continue to get tested. “He will be masking while indoors and around people,” she said. Overall, she sought to project a sense of stability, despite the possibility of new infections in the White House.
“We know how to move forward,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. In essence, the White House believes that with masks, vaccines and tests widely available, Americans can take as many — or as few — precautions as they want.
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Summer ends with miniwave
For the most part, Americans have sought to leave the pandemic in the past. By 2023, masking had become an increasingly rare practice. Vaccination and booster rates had flatlined. When the public health and national emergency both ended last spring, it seemed that the nation was finally done with the coronavirus.
But recent weeks have seen hospitalizations rise consistently nationwide, a trend that indicates something of a miniwave, driven by the new Pirola subvariant of Omicron, also known scientifically as BA.2.86.
The recent spike, however, may be nothing more than the new post-pandemic normal, with the coronavirus continuing to periodically show up.
“This is what living with COVID is going to look like,” Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiology professor at the University of Edinburgh, told Yahoo News.
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