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White House dismisses COVID-19 risk for Biden

The White House on Thursday dismissed any concerns that President Biden is at risk of contracting COVID-19 after he spent time the day before with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who tested positive early Thursday.

Biden and Pelosi were together at the White House, at times in very close contact, on Wednesday for an event marking the Affordable Care Act at which former President Obama was also present.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday the president was not considered a close contact of Pelosi's as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because they spent less than 15 minutes in close proximity to each other.

"The way a close contact is defined, it's not arbitrary, it's not something made up by the White House, it's CDC guidelines, and how they define it is being within six feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. They were not. All of their interactions were publicly available, I think you saw them, and that's how that assessment is made," Psaki said.

Biden was last tested on Wednesday evening -- in which he tested negative -- as part of his regular cadence.

Psaki said unless his physicians indicate otherwise, Biden would be tested as he normally would, adding that the White House continues to implement "stringent protocols" which include testing people who are going to be traveling or in the Oval Office with Biden.

The White House earlier said Biden saw Pelosi at White House events and had "brief interactions" with her over the last two days.

Psaki was questioned if there was a discussion on whether to treat him as a close contact to Pelosi considering they were together for about 14 minutes and while at times socially distanced, were sometimes inches away from each other.

"If he were a close contact the only difference -- I don't even know if it would be a difference -- would be a five-day test, a test five days after your contact," she said.

A reporter noted to Psaki that the CDC also recommends those in close contact wear a mask for 10 days in public.

"If he is a close contact, that is what exactly he will do," Psaki said.

Images from the White House event on Wednesday show Biden kissing Pelosi on the cheek. When asked how that would not qualify as close contact, Psaki again reiterated the 15 minute level of contact guideline from the CDC.

"The way that it is defined is by the CDC and their definition of it is 15 minutes of contact within a set period of time within six feet. It did not meet that bar," she said. "It does not mean that no one will get COVID around the world who have a close contact, it just means we are defining for all of you whether the president and their interaction met the definition of the CDC of a close contact."

Biden is set to host an event on Friday with Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The event on the South Lawn will also include Vice President Harris, whose communications director Jamaal Simmons tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. The White House said while Harris is considered a close contact in that case, she would go about her previously scheduled public appearances.

Harris tested negative on Thursday, a White House official said.

While the event with Jackson is outside, Psaki said Harris will follow CDC protocols when questioned if she will wear a mask for other events at the White House. She also said that for events, individuals in close proximity to the president, like those on stage with him, are typically tested.

"It being outside is certainly an important component here," she added when asked if people attending would have to take additional steps given the recent uptick in cases in the administration.

Despite the CDC protocol on mask wearing after having close contact, Harris did not wear a mask on Thursday when she presided over the Senate for Jackson's historic confirmation vote.

When asked for a White House response about Harris's lack of face covering, Psaki said she had not done "further analysis" beyond the fact that Harris has been wearing a mask otherwise.

"I haven't seen, I obviously watched most parts of the vote. I know that she was alone, kind of up on the dais, for the vast majority of that and of course she has been wearing a mask otherwise. But beyond that, I haven't done any further analysis," she said.

[Source: By Alex Gangitano, The Hill, Washington, 08Apr22]

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