Vice President Harris has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said Tuesday, becoming the most senior Biden administration official to contract a virus that has afflicted millions of Americans.
The vice president is not considered a close contact to President Biden or first lady Jill Biden because of their respective recent travel schedules. Harris will isolate and continue to work from her residence, returning to the White House when she tests negative, Allen said.
Harris, 57, is fully vaccinated and boosted, and as vice president has access to some of the world’s best medical care. Still, she is in a vulnerable demographic that the Food and Drug Administration made eligible for a second booster shot in March.
On Tuesday evening, a spokeswoman for Harris said that, after consulting with her physicians, she was prescribed and had taken Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral pill that the Biden administration has been encouraging more to use as it has become more widely available.
At a minimum, the diagnosis will force one of the nation’s most popular politicians — a history-making first woman and first person of Black and Asian descent to serve as second-in-command — to curtail her public schedule as the administration grapples with competing crises. One of those is the ongoing pandemic: The nation is nearing 1 million deaths from the virus.
Two Democratic senators — Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) — tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, as well. With Harris, the Democrats’ tiebreaking vote in the Senate, isolating until she tests negative, any contentious votes in the Senate will most likely be on hold. However, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that efforts to confirm several of President Biden’s nominees this week would continue.
“We’ve had some issues with attendance that just arose in the last few hours, but we’re going to continue pushing to get the president’s nominees confirmed,” Schumer said. “These health issues will not deter us from getting these done.”
Several other top administration officials have contracted the virus, even as the White House says it has implemented more stringent measures to protect those who work on campus — especially the president, vice president and their spouses. Harris’s husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, tested positive for the coronavirus in March, and the vice president was designated a “close contact” after an aide contracted the virus, though she did not get sick on either of those occasions.
The virus has been making inroads at the White House for some time. White House press secretary Jen Psaki had to withdraw from a major Biden trip to Europe because of a positive test result. After taking her place, backup spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre got the coronavirus as well. Several Cabinet officials have also been diagnosed with the virus in recent weeks.
Asked Tuesday if it was only a matter of time before Biden tested positive, as well, White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha said that was not what he would say.
“Of course, it is possible that the president, like any other American, could get covid,” Jha told reporters at his first White House news briefing appearance. “The bottom line is, he is vaccinated and boosted, he is very well protected, he’s got very good protocols around him to protect him from getting infected. But there is no 100 percent anything.”
Biden was last tested for the coronavirus Monday and was negative, Psaki said. Biden checked in with Harris on Tuesday afternoon by phone to make sure she had everything she needed as she isolated at home, according to the White House.
Harris had been on the West Coast last week, with stops in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and returned to Washington on Monday. The White House did not immediately release details about who would be considered close contacts of the vice president during this time. Harris was scheduled to join Biden Tuesday morning for the President’s Daily Brief, and had been slated to attend the funeral of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on Wednesday with the president. But Harris did not participate in any events or meetings at the White House Tuesday, and the last time she saw Biden in person was on April 18, according to her office.
The United States is now in a fluid and potentially transitional phase of the pandemic, marked by infections that are more frequent but less severe, at least for those who are vaccinated and boosted. Biden got his second booster shot in late March, and Harris got her second booster April 1.
Scientists warn that new variants are still emerging and could continue to arise for some time, leaving the pandemic’s future unpredictable. At the same time, a growing number of Americans are signaling that they are eager to put the pandemic behind them and return to a normal, restriction-free life.
The vice president’s illness has wider ramifications, of course. It underscores the prevalence of the pandemic that has swept the world in the past two years, affecting everyone from world leaders — both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump contracted covid-19 — to athletes and entertainers.
Matt Viser contributed to this report.