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What medical care looks like for Joe Biden in the White House

  • President Joe Biden, 79, has the coronavirus.
  • But his outlook is good as he is up to date on his COVID-19 vaccines.
  • He also has top-notch medical care.

President Joe Biden is the latest high profile figure in the United States to contract the coronavirus which has sickened 90 million people and claimed 1 million lives.

While Biden’s age of 79 raises the risk that he will have a harder time with the virus, studies show that his relatively good health, along with his up-to-date vaccinations, give him a good chance of recovery.

But there’s also another reason why the public is optimistic about the president’s prognosis: he has one of the best access to health care in the world.

“He’s the president, so obviously he’s getting extra attention,” national coronavirus coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said during Thursday’s White House press briefing.

The president’s access to health care began even before he fell ill. He receives full-time medical care from the White House Medical Unit, a part of the military located on the first floor of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is staffed by doctors, nurses, medical assistants and orderlies and functions as an urgent care center. As part of their job, presidents always have a doctor who travels with them.

This photo taken Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 shows President Barack Obama at the White House Medical Unit as a White House medic prepares to administer the H1N1 vaccine to him.

This photo taken Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 shows President Barack Obama at the White House Medical Unit as a White House medic prepares to administer the H1N1 vaccine to him.

The White House, Pete Souza/AP Photo


A former senior Trump administration official who spoke to Insider on condition of anonymity said the White House may also bring in outside doctors, such as infectious disease specialists.

Arthur Caplan, a leading bioethicist who teaches at NYU Langone, said the president had immediate access to primary care, regular testing and any medications doctors deemed necessary.

“Obviously you have great, quick access to any medications you might need,” Caplan said. “A lot of Americans don’t.”

On top of that, the president can quarantine while doing his job in ways that many working Americans can’t, especially if they aren’t getting paid sick leave that will help them support their lives. their family.

“The president doesn’t have that problem,” Caplan said. “He can zoom in 24/7 and do things that CEOs and other people in privileged positions can do in isolation.”

The president’s inner circle also enjoys good access to medical care.

The White House Executive Office Building has its own medical clinic that provides basic primary care to the president’s staff, including vaccines or COVID testing. Health care providers can give patients Advil for a cold or medicine for a sore throat, the former Trump administration official said.

Walter Reed would be next stop for worsening symptoms

If the president’s condition worsens, he would be moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a world-class facility about 16 miles north of the White House in Bethesda, Maryland. This is the same place where presidents receive their annual medical exams and screenings such as colonoscopies.

Biden can travel to Walter Reed either by motorcade or by helicopter. And he wouldn’t have to wait hours in the emergency room like most ordinary patients.

With reporters standing beside him, then-President Johnson examines some documents in his hospital bed, November 16, after undergoing surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital here.  The establishment merged with Walter Reed.

With reporters standing beside him, then-President Johnson examines some documents in his hospital bed, November 16, after undergoing surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital here. The establishment merged with Walter Reed.

Getty Images


If Biden were to go to Walter Reed, he would stay in the presidential suite. According to the former Trump administration official, the space is similar to an apartment and includes both a bedroom and a Cabinet room so that “you can continue to be president even while you are in the hospital” .

“Think of it as a very luxurious hospital,” the person said. “It’s the size of what you would imagine the leader of the free world to be running the government if he were to be in hospital.”

In this handout provided by the White House, then-President Donald Trump participates in a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , General Mark Milley, in his conference room at Walter Reed.  National Military Medical Center on October 4, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.  Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is also in the room during the roll call.

In this handout provided by the White House, then-President Donald Trump participates in a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , General Mark Milley, in his conference room at Walter Reed. National Military Medical Center on October 4, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Tia Dufour/The White House via Getty Images


In addition to this, doctors at Walter Reed can call on specialists from the nearby National Institutes of Health, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, or another clinical expert.

When Donald Trump was president and had COVID, he took a helicopter and was hospitalized in Walter Reed for three days.

The situation was then a little different, however. Trump caught the virus two months before vaccines were ready. He was 74 at the time and his body mass index was in the obesity range, a risk factor that contributes to more severe cases of COVID-19.

Indeed, the public would later learn that Trump’s condition had become worse than what the White House had initially disclosed. His blood oxygen level dropped twice and the doctors gave him a steroid.

Yet Trump received top-notch medical care, including an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Most COVID patients could not access treatment unless they participated in a clinical trial.

His White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, has appointed up to 13 specialists to his medical team at Walter Reed.

Then-White House physician Sean Conley with medical staff provides an update on the condition of then-President Donald Trump, Oct. 3, 2020, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda , Maryland.

Then-White House physician Sean Conley with medical staff provides an update on the condition of then-President Donald Trump, Oct. 3, 2020, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda , Maryland.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images


Biden’s prognosis is good now but murky

It is not yet known which strain of the coronavirus Biden has. Jha said the results would be ready in a week.

So far, Biden has had mild symptoms, including a runny nose, fatigue and a dry cough, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Biden takes Paxlovid, antiviral pills that patients are supposed to take for five days.

“It’s important to remember that while he’s very likely to survive, he could end up in isolation for a long time,” Caplan said, adding that it could even take up to 10 days.

Open questions remain about whether the president could get what’s been called “long COVID,” meaning symptoms of the disease that linger for months, including fatigue and headaches. head. Caplan said the best health care in the world won’t matter if doctors find themselves unable to treat severe and persistent symptoms.

It’s too early in Biden’s diagnosis to know if he will have long COVID, and it’s still unclear what proportion of people who get COVID have those prolonged symptoms.

“I’m not aware of any data that age is a significant risk factor for long COVID,” Jha said. “He is receiving excellent care from his doctor and if he has persistent symptoms they will be treated.”

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