After Gridiron Dinner, a covid outbreak among Washington A-list guests

More than a dozen guests who attended Saturday night’s Gridiron Club dinner — including two Cabinet members, two members of Congress and a top aide to Vice President Harris — have since tested positive for coronavirus, sending ripples of anxiety through a city on the cusp of restarting its traditional social whirl after a two-year pause.

A-list guests were asked to show proof of vaccination but not negative tests, and many mingled freely without masks at the dinner at the downtown Renaissance Washington Hotel.

But by Wednesday, Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo had announced they had tested positive. They were soon followed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who requested a test Wednesday afternoon after learning he may have been exposed — and discovered that he, too, carried the virus. Thus far, none have reported serious illness.

Jamal Simmons, the communications director for Vice President Harris, said later Wednesday he, too, had tested positive and is now isolating at home. But since he had been in close contact with Harris, she would also be consulting with a physician, her press secretary said.

The Washington Post has learned of about a half-dozen journalists as well as members of the White House and National Security Council staffs who said they tested positive after the event. Their names are being withheld because they have not announced their status publicly.

Tom DeFrank, a contributing columnist for National Journal and president of the Gridiron Club, said that as of Wednesday afternoon, the group knew of 14 guests who had tested positive.

“There is no way of being certain about when they first contracted covid,” he said in a statement. “But they did interact with other guests during the night and we have to be realistic and expect some more cases.”

About half of the cases appeared to have been clustered at three tables, he said, and the club was taking steps to notify anyone who sat next to or across from the infected guests.

How many of the infections began at the dinner and how serious the outbreak will prove to be remains unclear. Many of the guests have jobs that require regular testing that catches some asymptomatic cases. Castro and Raimondo said they are suffering only mild symptoms while Schiff said he is “feeling fine” — and touted the value of vaccinations and boosters.

But the outbreak at the Gridiron — where some of the comic skits featured actors dressed as the coronavirus, like large, green bouncing balls with red frills — highlights the personal risk-benefit balancing act much of the country will be negotiating as the pandemic subsides.

Administration officials and many experts have said that, more than two years into the pandemic, individuals now have the tools they need to decide what level of risk they’re willing to tolerate — and that every social interaction, large or small, comes with a nonzero risk of covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

“The virus isn’t going to go anywhere. There’s not going to be any activity that isn’t going to have some level of covid risk associated with it,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “People are out at bars every day. People are having dinners, watching sports games, doing whatever they want but when it happens to a celebrity or politician, then it becomes something you have to talk about.”

Several of the White House aides who tested positive did so after traveling to Poland last week with President Biden and before the Gridiron dinner. White House press secretary Jen Psaki — who attended the Gridiron dinner — reiterated Wednesday that all White House employees who come in proximity to Biden are regularly tested.

Biden didn’t attend the dinner but appeared via video.

At the Gridiron dinner, a Republican governor roasted Trump

The white-tie-and-gowns dinner attracted about 630 guests, including members of Congress, the Cabinet, diplomatic corps, military and business.

Among those in attendance were Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other guests included Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Reps. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.); Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and special presidential envoy John F. Kerry; Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell; Govs. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) and Chris Sununu (R-N.H.); and New York Mayor Eric Adams (D).

The possibility that senators at the dinner were infected could conceivably delay a Senate vote to confirm…

Read More: After Gridiron Dinner, a covid outbreak among Washington A-list guests

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