A handful of coronavirus cases have surfaced among people attending the White House correspondents dinner over the weekend, the correspondent association’s president said Tuesday.
Steven Portnoy of CBS News Radio, who heads the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the cases he was aware of so far were numbered to “single digits”.
Among those who tested positive after the gala – an annual event that missed two years due to the pandemic – was Steve Herman, Voice of America’s chief national correspondent. Jonathan Karl, ABC News chief correspondent from Washington, also tested positive, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The official case count in Washington has largely declined since Omicron’s winter surge, but there has been a modest increase since mid-April. But the true number of cases is uncertain, as home tests are generally not officially reported and asymptomatic people may not realize they are infected and capable of spreading the virus.
Many had wondered if it would be appropriate to gather a crowd of 2,600 in the packed ballroom of the Washington Hilton hotel. Their concerns were highlighted after dozens of people, including several members of Mr. Biden’s cabinet, recently tested positive after attending a smaller political gathering, the Gridiron Dinner.
Participants in that event were required to show proof of vaccination, but not coronavirus test results on the same day. The White House correspondents dinner required proof of vaccination and a negative test on the same day, and recalls were strongly encouraged. Masking was optional in both.
Mr. Karl’s positive test was first reported by Politico, who also reported shaking hands with President Biden during the event.
The White House, questioned about that meeting, on Tuesday evening indicated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which consider “close contact” as a minimum of 15 minutes within six feet of an infected person. The White House protocols also required that anyone who had been on stage in close proximity to the president, including Mr. Karl and Mr. Noah, took a certified medical test, according to a person familiar with the protocols.
Mr. Karl tested negative on Saturday afternoon and had no symptoms, but tested positive on Monday evening, the person who knew about his situation said.
Mr. Biden, 79, did not wear a mask when commenting on stage or during comedian Trevor Noah’s half-hour commentary, but he skipped the knife and fork dinner part. In his remarks he mentioned the safety precautions related to the event. “We are here to show the country that we are going through this pandemic,” he told the crowd.
Mr. Noah opened his remarks in no uncertain terms. “It is a great honor for me to speak at the nation’s most illustrious super broadcast event tonight,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “No, really, folks, what are we doing here? Let’s be honest, what are we doing? Like, have none of you learned anything from Gridiron’s dinner? Nothing? “More laughter.
“Do you read any of your newspapers?” he continued, adding: “You guys have spent the last two years telling everyone about the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings indoors. Then the moment someone offers you a free dinner, you all turn into Joe Rogan. “
The extravagant gala is often booked by a number of other parties and receptions in the capital, which set their own safety guidelines.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s chief medical adviser on the virus, withdrew from dinner last week, citing an “individual assessment of my personal risk,” although he reportedly attended a brunch-related event. indoors and outdoors on weekends.
Mr. Portnoy pointed out on Tuesday that the protocols implemented by the Correspondents ‘Association for the dinner itself went beyond the current health agencies’ guidelines and pointed to an email he sent to members in April.
“Nothing we implement to protect the ballroom can match the many social events other organizers organize around our dinner,” he wrote in that email. “Keep that in mind.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reportage.