President Biden Has Covid. Now What?

Nancy Gibbs

The following is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in The New York Times in print on July 22, 2022, Section A, Page 21 of the New York Edition.

The president has tested positive for the coronavirus.

So what?

Maybe, just maybe, a divided country that turned its response to a virus into tribal warfare can take this moment to lay down arms and declare a truce. The president has Covid. Now what?

Even at his advanced age, President Biden enjoys substantial protection as a vaccinated and double boosted adult with access to available therapeutics like Paxlovid. The vice president, the octogenarian speaker of the House and much of the president’s cabinet and congressional leadership have already had Covid, so this is the final test of whether this news is news or more like a weather report. If we have reached the point that a president testing positive elicits a shrug, it’s the clearest signal yet that, wisely or not, we’ve turned the page.

The White House reports that the president’s symptoms are mild, and one hopes he is spared long-term harm, brain fog and fatigue, which may be less apparent but more insidious. The BA.5 Omicron subvariant has been especially agile in infecting and reinfecting even people who were still “being careful,” which has introduced a certain fatalism to the conversation — even though hundreds of people are still dying every day from Covid-19. People who are immunocompromised may feel even more vulnerable as the rest of the world moves on. But Covid death statistics, like those accompanying most car crashes, have receded from front-page news. So now we will see whether a positive P.C.R. test in the Oval Office amounts to something like the president having a cold.

Every president is a Rorschach test on whom citizens project hopes, doubts, dreams and deep night terrors. From the start, the pandemic was a pageant of personal choices and rolling risk assessments. Once it became a prime medium of tribal signaling, it tested how Americans weight our values: liberty, privacy, compassion, community. Now that the virus has breached the defenses of the most protected sanctuary on the planet, it adds another test — this one of truth, transparency and risk tolerance.

Read the rest of this article from The New York Times here.