President Biden’s COVID-19 diagnosis has scuttled his plans for domestic travel, presenting another roadblock to the president’s efforts to get out and sell his accomplishments ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
Biden’s positive case caused the White House to cancel—so far—planned trips to Pennsylvania and Florida, two key battlegrounds. Biden has sought to get out on the road more since the beginning of the year, but his plans for domestic travel have also been limited by foreign trips and his focus on the Russian war in Ukraine.
It’s unclear precisely how long Biden, who is experiencing mild symptoms, will stay isolated.
The White House said that Biden will remain in isolation for at least five days and stay away from people until receiving a negative coronavirus test. That means he could resume in-person activities as early as Wednesday.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines call for a 10-day quarantine, but they say that individuals can shorten that quarantine to as few as five days if the patient is asymptomatic. Those who come out of isolation early are told to wear face masks.
“I think that ten days is probably a good estimate to say,” said Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center who served at the Department of Health and Human Services under former President Obama. “I would think that they’re probably being conservative right now.”
Adding to questions about the length of his quarantine is Biden’s treatment course of Paxlovid, an antiviral used to lessen the severity of COVID-19. Some patients who have used the antiviral treatment, however, have experienced a rebound of symptoms, which could potentially prolong Biden’s isolation.
Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that in some cases patients can test negative and then several days later test positive again.
“These cases have posed a great challenge and confusion of what to do,” Osterholm said.
There is also still a chance that Biden’s case could worsen, though experts say it’s unlikely given he is up to date on his boosters and receiving Paxlovid.
“I think we have every reason to be optimistic,” said Osterholm, noting that Biden’s sole risk factor is his age.
The White House will want to get Biden back on the road as soon as possible, while also being careful to protect his health and those around them.
“When it comes to his schedule. We’ll see how the president does — he’s improving,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday, noting Biden has been active working while in isolation. “He’s still doing the job of the president.”
Biden has tried to traverse the country in an effort to break through to voters about Democrats’ successes on his watch, such as the bipartisan infrastructure law and the American Rescue Plan. He was slated to tout the bipartisan gun reform law in Pennsylvania on Thursday before testing positive.
His trip there was also an opportunity for the president to push for more measures to support police, curb crime and strengthen gun violence prevention efforts, which Democrats and advocates have called for.
Biden also had been scheduled to travel to Florida on Monday to headline a conference organized by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
In both cases, his diagnosis disrupted plans for Biden to appear at in-person Democratic National Committee events — viewed by donors as critical for the party as it looks to raise more money ahead of the midterms. Jean-Pierre on Friday said the president is “not concerned” about missing such political events.
“I am sure he’d rather be out in the country discussing his administration’s successes, but like any responsible person, he’ll do what he needs to do to quickly and safely recover, without endangering others,” said former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), has Biden ally.
“It seems almost impossible for a public figure to avoid COVID nowadays, particularly a public figure as active as President Biden,” Carney added.
White House officials have acknowledged that Biden’s COVID-19 diagnosis was always a possibility, given the large in-person events he has been attending in Washington and on the road.
“This is something that we were preparing for,” Jean-Pierre said Friday.
The administration has stressed that Biden can do his job from anywhere and that isolation at home won’t prevent him from working. Officials have grown accustomed to working remotely during the two-and-a-half-year pandemic; Biden phoned into at least three meetings on Friday to hear updates on national security matters, gas prices and legislative priorities.
“He was elected during a pandemic in which Republicans tried to make a mockery of him wanting to be COVID safe from his ‘basement’ and he still was able to effectively communicate a message to the American people. So I think this sort of break for him, away from domestic travel, does not change that his viewpoints … are still strong,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.
Others though argue the president’s trips haven’t been particularly effective in helping promote his successes anyway. His COVID-19 diagnosis comes as his approval rating hit a record low for his presidency and surpassed the lowest ratings of the previous two presidents this week. A recent poll put Biden’s economic approval rating at 30 percent, 11 points below the low to form President Trump and 7 points below the lowest to form Obama.
“Based on his persistently falling polling, there’s no evidence the president has been especially effective on the road selling his accomplishments or breaking through,” said Bruce Mehlman, former assistant secretary at the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush.
Instead, Mehlman pointed out that Biden’s coronavirus diagnosis does put the spotlight on the president’s age. Biden, 79, has faced persistent questions over if he will run for president again in 2024, though he insists that is his intention.
“The bigger risk of his testing positive is reinforcement of the ‘he’s old and weak’ narrative that critics regularly assert,” Mehlman said.
Still, the president’s physician, Kevin O’Connor, reported Friday that Biden’s mild symptoms were “improving.”
While Biden stays in Washington, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Harris have been on the road. Harris will travel to Richmond, Va., on Saturday and to Indianapolis, Ind., on Monday to meet with state legislators and leaders on reproductive rights. On Thursday, the first lady went to Michigan and Georgia to visit schools with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Seawright argued that members of the administration traveling while the president can’t be the best move to keep voters engaged and to all the White House’s successes.
“This is an opportunity for the White House and administration to give other voices and to give other folks their political deployment papers,” Seawright said. “With the diversity of his cabinet, with the many, many friends and extended family that comes with President Joe Biden, there’s no shortage of talent or voices to go out and talk about the good work this president has done.”