- President Joe Biden, 79, has the coronavirus.
- But his prospects are good because he's up to date on his COVID-19 shots.
- He also has top-notch medical care.
President Joe Biden is the latest high-profile figure in the US to get the coronavirus that has sickened 90 million people and taken the lives of 1 million individuals.
While Biden's age of 79 increases the risk that he'll have a harder time with the virus, studies show that his reported relatively good health, as well as his up-to-date vaccines, give him a good chance at recovery.
But there's also another reason for the public to be optimistic about the president's prognosis: He gets some of the best access to healthcare of anyone in the world.
"He's the president so obviously he gets extra attention," Dr. Ashish Jha, the nation's coronavirus coordinator, said during Thursday's White House press conference.
The president's access to healthcare started even before he got sick. 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's staffed by doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and medics, and operates similar to an urgent care center. As part of the job, presidents always have a doctor traveling with them.
One former senior official in the Trump administration who spoke to Insider on condition of anonymity said the White House can also bring in outside physicians, such as specialists in infectious disease.
Arthur Caplan, a leading bioethicist who teaches at NYU Langone, said the president has immediate access to primary care, regular testing, and any medication doctors determine are needed.
"Obviously you have excellent rapid access to whatever drugs you might need," Caplan said. "Many Americans do not."
On top of that, the president can quarantine while still doing his job in a way many US workers cannot, particularly if they don't receive paid sick days that will help them support their families.
"The president doesn't have this problem," Caplan said. "He can Zoom 24/7 and do things that CEOs and other people in fortunate positions can do in isolation."
The president's inner circle also gets 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 COVID vaccines or tests. Healthcare providers can give patients Advil for a cold or medicines for a sore throat, the former Trump administration official said.
Walter Reed would be the next stop for worsening symptoms
Should the president's condition worsen, he'd be transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a world-class facility about 16 miles north of the White House in Bethesda, Maryland. It's the same place where presidents receive their annual physicals and screenings such as colonoscopies.
Biden can travel to Walter Reed either through a motorcade or by helicopter. And he wouldn't have to wait hours in the emergency department like most regular patients.
If Biden were to go to Walter Reed then he'd stay at 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 "you can keep being president even while you're in the hospital."
"Think of it like a very deluxe hospital setting," the person said."It's the size of what you would imagine the leader of the free world to run the government from if he should need to be in the hospital."
On top of that, Walter Reed doctors can call on specialists at 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 at Walter Reed for three days.
The situation then was a little different, however. Trump got the virus two months before vaccines were ready. He was 74 years old at the time and his body mass index levels were in the range of obese, a risk factor that contributes to more severe cases of COVID-19.
Indeed, the public would later learn that Trump's condition became worse than the White House initially disclosed. His blood oxygen levels dropped twice and doctors gave him a steroid.
Still, Trump received top-notch medical care including an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Most COVID patients couldn't have access the treatment unless they were participating in a clinical trial.
His White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, named as many as 13 specialists on his medical team at Walter Reed.
Biden's prognosis good now but murky
It's not yet clear which strain of the coronavirus Biden has. Jha said that results would be ready within a week.
So far Biden has mild symptoms including a runny nose, fatigue, and a dry cough, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Biden is taking Paxlovid, which are antiviral pills patients are supposed to take for five days.
"It's important to remember that even though he's very likely to survive he could wind up being isolated for a long time," Caplan said, adding that it could even take as long as 10 days.
Open questions remain about whether the president could get what has been called "long COVID," meaning symptoms of the illness that persist for months including fatigue and headache. Caplan said the best healthcare in the world won't matter if doctors find themselves unable to treat serious, persistent symptoms.
It's too early in Biden's diagnosis to know whether he'll have long COVID, and it's still not clear what proportion of people who get COVID have these extended symptoms.
"I'm not aware of data that age is a significant risk factor for long COVID," Jha said. "He gets excellent care from his physician and if he has persistent symptoms they will get addressed."