Biden travels to survey Kentucky flood damage in first presidential trip after COVID isolation

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Monday traveled to Kentucky to survey damage from severe flooding in the state — a visit that also marks his first official trip since he tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

He landed in Lexington on Monday morning to talk with local officials about the flooding, which killed at least 37 people after rain soaked the eastern part of the state. On Sunday, the president amended an existing emergency declaration for Kentucky to free up additional disaster assistance.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with Gov. Andy Beshear and Kentucky first lady Britainy Beshear. The Bidens also visited families affected by the flooding and made an unannounced stop at Lost Creek, site of some of the damage.

In Lost Creek, the president reaffirmed his promise of federal assistance “until everybody is back where they were.”

Biden said he had just met one man across the road from where he was speaking who told him that he didn’t “want to ask too much” of the federal government because people there are used to “having neighbors help us out.”

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“I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ Seriously. And he pointed out that — here’s the deal, it is true that the people here in this community, in Western Kentucky and the folks I’ve met [after last year’s] tornado, they’re not just Kentuckians, they’re Americans. They’re Americans. This happened in America! American problem! And we’re all Americans, everybody has an obligation to help,” Biden said. “We have the capacity to do this. It’s not like it’s beyond our control. The weather may be beyond our control for now, but it’s not beyond our control.”

Biden also promised local families that he was “coming back” because he wanted to see the area once it was rebuilt.

“It’s going to take a while to get through this. But I promise you, we are not leaving. The federal government and all the resources, we’re not leaving. As long as it takes, we’re going to be here,” the president said at a separate roundtable event on the flooding on Monday.

“We want to help everybody, every American the same way,” he added. “But some outfits who are asking for help — some Democrat, Republican, doesn’t matter — some folks don’t know what to do with it as quickly as they think they can use it.”

Beshear, alongside Biden, praised the assistance that has already come into the state from charities but said federal aid would go a long way in the flood recovery.

“We are overwhelmed with clothes and water and the rest. There are a lot of good charities out there, including our team in Eastern Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, the Red Cross and others but [what] we need now are the dollars and the medium-term and long-term rebuilding,” the governor said.

Leaving Kentucky on Monday, Biden once again spoke of bipartisan success just before taking off from Lexington.

“Think it was a good day, we’re going to get a lot done down in Kentucky,” he said.

One reporter asked why his message of bipartisan success hasn’t been resonating, given his “terrible” polling numbers.

“Well it’s a long way home, you know. Fact is that we’ve been divided for so long and it’s really recently that we have any kind of movement, and I think you’re going to see a lot of change,” he said.

Biden previously visited Kentucky in December to survey tornado damage in the state.

He told reporters at Dover Air Force Base before flying on Monday that he felt “great” and again tested negative for COVID that morning. He was first cleared to leave isolation Sunday after testing negative for a second time following a so-called rebound case of the virus.

The president tested positive last month and, according to his doctor, experienced mild symptoms including a slight fever, cough and sore throat. He tested negative less than a week after that first positive test but received another positive test just days after that.

During his initial bout with COVID, Biden took Paxlovid, which is a key therapeutic for high-risk patients in preventing hospitalization and other severe outcomes. But it at times produces a rebound case after a patient finishes their course of treatment.

After he got the green light to leave isolation, Biden traveled to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, before traveling Monday to Kentucky.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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