The president, 80, was seen wearing a mask for the first time in months as he went about his duties at the White House today.
However, he took it off during a Medal of Honor ceremony and did not put it back on – an act that highlights Americans’ mask fatigue.
The 72-year-old First Lady’s positive result is a reminder the virus that has been a backdrop issue for months is still disrupting people’s lives as cases are on the rise again and positivity rates have climbed as high as 20 percent in some parts of the US.
But Covid is no longer the deadly threat it once was. While hospital admissions involving the virus have been rising for weeks, they are still about 10 times lower than levels seen at the peak in January 2022 and deaths are about 40 times lower.
And doctors now compare the virus to the common cold or the flu, which can be attributed to the high levels of immunity among Americans from infection or vaccination, plus an arsenal of highly-effective therapies and drugs.
In May, more than three years after the emergence of Covid, the federal government declared the pandemic over and ended the public health emergency, scrapping legal requirements to mask, isolate, test and get vaccinated.
But with Covid making a comeback, here’s everything you need to know about the situation in the US:
The above map shows the percent positivity of Covid tests by US region during the week ending Aug. 26. The percent positivity is highest in the region that includes New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, where it is 20 percent or more
The above map shows the weekly hospital admissions rate due to Covid-19 by US county in the week ending Aug. 19
The above maps shows the percentage of deaths due to Covid by state during the week ending Aug. 26
Will mask mandates be reinstated?
While some individual companies and universities have put mask requirements in place, there is no indication state or federal mask mandates will return.
Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, reinstated a mask requirement for 14 days for students and staff just days after classes began late last month.
The college also banned parties and large student events on campus and implemented temperature checks.
Additionally, a recent editorial by the American College of Physicians called for mask mandates to return to healthcare facilities. A Kaiser Permanente hospital in California and several in New York state reinstated mandates for at least several weeks.
Hollywood movie studio Lionsgate also reinstated its mask requirement briefly last month, before quickly reversing its decision.
Do I need to isolate if I test positive for Covid?
People are encouraged to but there is no legal requirement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest guidelines, as of May 2023, people who test positive for Covid should isolate and keep separate from others for at least five days, regardless of vaccination status.
If someone with Covid is showing no symptoms, the isolation period begins the day after they receive a test. However, if the person develops symptoms any time within 10 days of when they tested, the isolation period restarts on the day of symptom onset.
If a person is showing symptoms, day one of the isolation period is the first full day following the day symptoms began.
Isolation can end after day five if symptoms are improving and a person is fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medications. If symptoms do not approve after day five, people should continue to isolate until they are fever-free.
While isolation can end after five days, people who test positive should continue to wear a high-quality mask around others and in public for 10 days or until they receive two negative tests 48 hours apart.
People with Covid should also inform anyone they recently had close contact with that they have the virus, though no one is legally obligated to report if they’ve tested positive.
The health agency’s recommendations do not change based on Covid hospital admissions.
Do I have to stay home from work?
There is no legal requirement but people are encouraged to take sick days if they become sick with Covid.
Before May, some states forced employers to provide an additional amount of paid leave for reasons that applied to Covid – to help employees follow mandatory quarantine periods without using all of their sick and vacation leave.
But those rules have lapsed in several jurisdictions.
For example, California’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave expired on December 31, 2022.
However, some jurisdictions, such as New York State, still have COVID-19 sick leave laws in effect that require employers to provide separate paid leave beyond what an employee may otherwise be entitled to under a state or local paid sick leave law or an employer’s policy for certain employee needs related to COVID-19.
First Lady Dr Jill Biden speaks at the Chicago Federation of Labor Labor Day event in Chicago, Illinois on Aug. 30, 2023
President Joe Biden and first lady Dr Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 2, 2023
Do I need to test if I am exposed to Covid?
Current CDC guidelines recommend people who are exposed to Covid wear a mask as soon as they find out about their exposure.
They should continue wearing a mask for 10 days and get tested for the virus five days after exposure.
Even if the result is negative, the CDC says people should continue wearing a mask in public and around others for 10 days as symptoms can still develop.
If a person tests positive, they should isolate immediately.
Tests for Covid-19 had long been freely available and covered by government and private health insurances.
However, with the Biden administration ending the Covid public health emergency in May, health insurance plans no longer need to cover tests and free test kits from the government are no longer being sent out, meaning Americans may need to pay for their own Covid testing.
However, some insurers may still choose to cover testing.
What are the new variants?
Two variants driving the surge in cases, EG.5, or Eris, and BA.2.86, or Pirola, were thought to be highly mutated and transmissible and doctors believed they could be better at avoiding current vaccine immunity.
While concerns over Pirola prompted concern from public health officials and new mask mandates, early lab results carried out in the US, Sweden and China suggest these warnings may have been overblown.
Results indicated Pirola may be another ‘scariant‘ and not the second coming of Omicron, Dr Dan Barouch, a virologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York who was behind one of the lab tests, told CNN.
The tests found antibodies from people vaccinated against Covid and people who had recovered from an infection in the previous six months were just as effective at protecting against a Pirola infection as they were with other variants.
Dr Barouch said after reviewing test results, he was confident Pirola did not pose the public health risk originally thought.
While virologists have warned it is too early to reliably pinpoint BA.2.86 specific symptoms, its ancestor BA.2 had some tell-tale signs. Experts aren’t yet certain, however, if it behaves like similar Omicron subvariants. Signs to watch out for include a runny nose, sore throat and fatigue
What are my chances of becoming severely ill or dying from Covid?
While Covid cases are on the rise in the US, public health officials say the majority of people are experiencing mild symptoms comparable to a cold or flu.
Additionally, the CDC considers the hospitalization rate of Covid patients to be low and the weekly death rate is near a historic low.
There were more deaths during the week ending Aug. 19 from Alzheimer’s disease, which killed more than 1,649 people, diabetes, responsible for more than 1,107 deaths and cancerous tumors, which more than 8,796 people died from, according to the CDC’s Weekly Provisional Counts of Deaths by State and Select Causes.
Are cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the rise?
In recent weeks, public health agencies have observed an increase in the number of positive Covid tests and hospitalizations. Over the past month, however, deaths from Covid have declined.
The CDC reports there were approximately 4.5 new hospital admissions for every 100,000 people in the US in the week ending Aug. 19, the most recent data available.
The CDC considers this a low rate and it is nearly 10 times lower than at the peak of hospital admissions in January 2022.
The Covid death rate per 100,000 people in the week ending Aug. 26, was 0.1, compared to the high of 7.8 per 100,000, which was recorded in January 2021.
Covid is now responsible for approximately two percent of all deaths in the US, compared to the peak of 30 percent in January 2021.
While these numbers are promising, the elderly, those with comorbidities or those who are immunocompromised are still at a high risk of contracting the virus and suffering potentially dangerous complications and should take precautions amid the uptick.
The above graph shows the weekly percent Covid test positivity (orange line) and the weekly Covid hospital admissions (blue bars) in the US throughout the pandemic as of Aug. 31
The above graph shows the weekly deaths from Covid in the US throughout the pandemic as of Aug. 31
Do I need another Covid vaccine?
Doctors are advising people to hold off on getting another Covid booster until an updated one is available, which should be in mid- to late-September.
Medical experts say people who are not immunocompromised or extremely vulnerable should postpone an immediate booster until the fall to maximize the protection gained from the updated vaccine.
Vaccine manufacturers, such as Moderna, are updating their shots in order to better protect against new strains.
Health officials say the new boosters, formulated based on subvariants of the Omicron strain, have been shown to provide significant antibodies against some of the circulating variants.
Vaccines are currently free to most Americans with private or federal health coverage and to the uninsured.
The US government has been paying about $26 per dose of the vaccine, but some manufacturers, such as Pfizer and Moderna, are planning to increase the price up to $130 when the shots are sold on the private market this fall.
This price hike will be especially concerning in the fall, when the federal government plans on shifting Covid vaccine distribution to the commercial market, meaning manufacturers can sell their updated vaccines directly to healthcare providers instead of the government.
Federal and corporate programs are planning to assist uninsured Americans in paying for the vaccine should they want to receive one and Pfizer and Moderna intend to establish patient assistance programs.