The hoarseness and coughing which reporters noticed during a Friday speech by President Joe Biden are not symptoms of Covid-19 or another serious respiratory illness, Physician to the President Dr Kevin O’Connor said in a letter released after Mr Biden’s cough alarmed reporters during a Friday morning speech.
“As is readily apparent, President Biden is experiencing some increased nasal congestion this week. This can be heard in his voice and he is feeling the colloquially well-known ‘frog in one’s throat,’” Dr O’Connor wrote in the letter, which was distributed by the White House press office.
Dr O’Connor has been in charge of Mr Biden’s medical care since 2009, when the then-Army officer was assigned as physician to the then-Vice President as part of his duties in the White House Medical Unit. He is the first civilian to serve as physician to the president in several decades, having retired from the Army in 2017.
The White House released Dr O’Connor’s letter several hours after Mr Biden delivered remarks on the Bureau of Labour Statistics November jobs report, stopping several times to clear his throat while doing so.
Mr Biden’s throat-clearing has been a frequent feature at many of his public appearances since he became the oldest man to ever serve as president in January. The behaviour raised enough questions about whether it reflected a problem with Mr Biden’s health that Dr O’Connor noted the “increasing frequency and severity” of it in a 19 November memo reporting the results of Mr Biden’s yearly physical exam.
Although Dr O’Connor noted in the November memo that Mr Biden’s throat-clearing had been something he’d noticed since he began treating him in 2009, he said the symptom “warranted detailed investigation”.
But such symptoms, combined with the hoarseness Mr Biden exhibited on Friday, so alarmed reporters that the first question asked him upon concluding his remarks was: “Your voice sounds a little different. Are you OK?”
Mr Biden replied that he was “OK” and said he is tested for Covid-19 daily. He attributed his hoarse voice to “just a cold”, which he said he’d picked up from his grandson, Beau Biden Jr.
“What I have is a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson who had a cold, who likes to kiss his Pop,” he said.
Speaking a few hours later at her daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the president’s symptoms were being treated with “some over-the-counter cold medication, and probably some cough drops and some tea”.