WASHINGTON – He’s vaccinated. He’s negative. And he’s traveling.
Just days after he was exposed to COVID, President Joe Biden will arrive in New Delhi, India, early Friday morning for the Group of 20 summit, where he is scheduled to hold two days of meetings with leaders of some of the world’s leading economies.
Biden’s trip follows the disclosure that first lady Jill Biden is isolating at the family’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, after testing positive for COVID on Monday. The president, who was last with her on the day of her positive test, has tested four times since then. All four tests were negative, and he has no symptoms, the White House said.
Given all those factors, the White House decided to go ahead with the trip to Asia, which had been planned for months and includes a stop in Vietnam on Sunday.
But should he go? Is it safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that anyone who has been close to someone with COVID should test at least five days after the exposure, even if they are feeling fine. Saturday would mark five days since the first lady’s positive test.
The CDC also recommends that people who have been potentially exposed to COVID should watch for symptoms for at least 10 days. (In Biden’s case, that would be until Sept. 14.) They also should wear a face mask for 10 days whenever they are around others indoors.
Public health experts said there’s no reason for Biden to cancel his trip as long as he continues to test negative and wear a face mask indoors while close to others.
“I don’t see any reason for him to stay home,” said Philip Landrigan, a physician and director of Boston College’s Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good. “He just needs to be aware of his circumstances and keep testing.”
While there is always some level of risk, wearing a face mask and continuing to test will allow Biden to go through his normal duties while minimizing the chance that he could potentially infect someone else, said Andrew Pekosz, a professor of molecular biology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“That, I think, is probably something that could apply to almost anybody,” Pekosz said.
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Biden tested Thursday before departing for India, and the White House said all staff traveling with him would also be tested. Biden also will follow the CDC guidelines, including wearing a face mask when he’s around others, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
But Biden has been an inconsistent practitioner of the masking protocol. He showed up at a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on Tuesday wearing a black face mask. The next day, however, he arrived at another White House event with his mask in his hand, not on his face. He was not wearing a mask when he boarded Air Force One for the flight to India Thursday afternoon.
People who have been exposed to COVID should not get any closer than six feet to another person without wearing a mask, Pekosz said. A good practice for Biden, or anyone else who has been exposed to the virus, would be to put on a face mask no matter how close you might be to someone else, he said.
“If you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll be in a room with other individuals, put it on ahead of time,” Pekosz said. “That’s the most efficient way to use masks. If you’ve made the decision to wear a mask, then you really should be wearing it even before you enter a room, before you enter a building.”
If Biden were to test positive while he’s overseas, he would need to start an antiviral regimen as soon as possible and isolate himself as much as possible, Pekosz said.
For most Americans, that would mean delaying the trip home for a few days until they are no longer infectious. When it’s the president, though, that’s probably not feasible.
The solution: Air Force One.
“He could get on board, minimize exposure to other people and then be able to fly back, whereas you and I, sitting in coach, there really is no way for us to do that,” Pekosz said.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @mcollinsNEWS.
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