A Covid tale of two presidents

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More than two years into the pandemic, a second US president has tested positive for Covid.

But the calmer outlook surrounding Joe Biden’s case contrasts with the panic that accompanied Donald Trump’s diagnosis: a reminder of progress made against the virus, even as it becomes clearer that the disease eventually comes for all.

Key differences however include the advent of vaccines, highly effective treatments, and a downward mutation in the severity of the virus in the time between both cases.

Trump was in the middle of campaigning for reelection in October 2020 when he dropped his bombshell announcement on Twitter, sending global stock markets tumbling.

The Republican had spent the summer downplaying the virus to his supporters, while mocking his Democratic rival Biden for wearing a mask.

Doctors opted for the “kitchen sink” approach, treating him with antiviral remdesivir, steroids, and monoclonal antibodies that were at the time still experimental.

“I know that because he looked like my Covid patients who die,” he said, referencing an infamous scene of Trump experiencing labored breathing as he posed for cameras after returning to the White House.

Biden’s case — so far confined to very mild symptoms — comes in a changed environment.

Biden is double vaccinated and double boosted — and even though the immunity from his last shot has waned, “what’s really important is that underlying immune memory” infectious disease physician Celine Gounder told AFP.

In addition, Biden is receiving Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an oral antiviral that has been a gamechanger not only because it is 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations, but also because it is available in easy-to-take pill form.

Heinz said the majority of patients he sees now come to hospital for reasons other than Covid, but also have incidental infections.

Biden’s infection also comes at a time where attitudes towards the virus have shifted.

Trump’s diagnosis was thus met with a degree of told-you-so scorn by his opponents — at a time when people becoming infected were still being dubbed “Covidiots.”

“Covid really should never have been seen as a moral failing — it is an efficiently spreading respiratory virus that is basically an ever present risk with social interaction,” he told AFP.

“I think the goal should be to avoid severe disease, hospitalization and death and then to avoid transmission to people who are at very high risk,” said Gounder, suggesting people take rapid tests and mask before they meet elderly relatives.

Originally published as A Covid tale of two presidents


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