President Biden’s coronavirus infection is a reminder that as many as Americans want to move on from the pandemic — none more so, perhaps, than Mr. Biden himself — the virus is not done with the United States.
For a third consecutive summer, the virus is surging, as the dominant BA.5 Omicron subvariant spreads rapidly, driving cases and hospitalizations to their highest point in months. People infected just months ago are at risk of reinfection. Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response team has been warning Americans that they must do more to protect themselves as the US death toll climbs well past one million.
A majority of Americans have been infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection estimates. Officials said Mr. Biden’s case is mild and that he would continue to work while isolating in the White House residence for at least five days, when he would resume normal activities if he tested negative.
The news isn’t all bad: There is no sign that BA.5 causes more severe disease, and with effective treatments like Paxlovid, which Mr. Biden is taking, and vaccine boosters, Covid is substantially less deadly.
The country has lurched toward a kind of new normalcy as mask mandates and other restrictions have fallen away, with the pandemic no longer dominating the national discourse. That was Mr. Biden’s hope when he announced a new Covid strategy in March that intended to move the nation out of crisis mode and toward a time when the virus no longer disrupts everyday life.
“I know you’re tired, frustrated and exhausted,” Mr. Biden said during his State of the Union address. “But I also know this: Because of the progress we’ve made, because of your resilience and the tools that we have been provided by this Congress, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines.”
But the United States has remained vulnerable as vaccination rates have stagnated, despite a big push by Mr. Biden. Only about two-thirds of Americans are considered fully vaccinated, a rate that is far lower than that of most developed nations. Half of American adults who are fully vaccinated have also received a single booster shot, and even fewer have received a second.
And even after a brutal winter surge and growing levels of immunity, subvariants have kept evolving enough to evade some antibodies and spark new waves.
That had not stopped the president from largely resuming regular activity. Last week, he returned from a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, where he shook hands and embraced many world leaders.
At home, Mr. Biden rarely wears a mask and has returned to host crowded events in the East Room and elsewhere in the White House.
Asked about why Mr. Biden was seen Thursday maskless at his desk in a photograph and in a video of him outside that the White House released, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said the videographer and photographer involved were at least six feet away and wearing N95 masks and that the photo was meant to show he was continuing his work.
Mr. Biden was experiencing mild symptoms, including a runny nose, fatigue and a dry cough, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid coordinator, said on Thursday. He said that moving Mr. Biden to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center remained an option but was not now necessary.
White House officials have depicted the latest surge as concerning but manageable, as cases rise in 40 states. As of Thursday, the US was reporting an average of roughly 128,500 daily coronavirus cases — believed to be a vast undercount — and 437 deaths each day, according to a New York Times database, a marked increase from early July. Hospitalizations have increased by 17 percent over the past two weeks, and an average of 41,800 Covid patients are now in US hospitals each day.
A big issue for the administration is a lack of funds to purchase more vaccines, tests and therapeutics. The Food and Drug Administration said last month that it had advised Covid vaccine manufacturers to update their booster formulations to target Omicron subvariants.
But Dr. Jha told The Times recently that the administration may not have enough doses for every American who wants one in the fall because Congress has refused to allocate any additional pandemic aid.