Coronavirus cases among names in bold make Washington uneasy

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WASHINGTON – “What do you hear about the Gridiron?”

A version of that text message erupted on phones across Washington this week as the Gridiron Club dinner, an annual black-tie roast between journalists and presidential administrations held over the weekend, quickly went from bad to worse. ‘a swampy cross-pollination party at an event where many of the names in bold appear to have caught the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, two Biden administration officials who attended the dinner, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, said they had tested positive for the virus. Neither has been determined to be in close contact with President Biden, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as someone within six feet for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period.

The positive tests are a reminder that even as authorities seek to move away from strict restrictions and encourage Americans to learn to live with the coronavirus, the pandemic is not over, driven by the emergence of a new sub- highly contagious variant whose spread is alarming. experts.

Mr Biden did not attend the Gridiron, but he appeared, without a mask, at several events this week, even as cases rise within his administration, among lawmakers, in the media and across the capital. . His maskless appearance also challenges the security protocols that stand between a 79-year-old president and a cunning virus capable of evading even the strictest security measures.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that the White House continues to follow CDC guidelines and mask guidelines issued by the District of Columbia.

“I would say that we are taking additional measures that go beyond CDC protocols and requirements to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep directors safe,” said Ms. Psaki, “the president, the vice president and others, of course, in the building.

According to several officials familiar with the protocols, officials who regularly come into close contact with Mr. Biden are tested more often. Mr. Biden is holding socially distanced meetings with aides when possible, and people who meet him at the White House are being tested. But that doesn’t apply to what Ms. Psaki called “public” events, where Mr. Biden can mingle with guests in group settings.

One of those happened on Tuesday, when Mr. Biden greeted former President Barack Obama in a crowded East Room, where the two men gave speeches about the longevity of the Affordable Care Act and circulated among supporters. Ms Psaki said the attendees had not been tested for coronavirus.

The Biden administration has said it has rigorous contact tracing protocols in place, but when officials took tests after exposure to the virus has not been clear in several cases.

The announcement about Mr. Garland came just hours after he gave a press conference at the Justice Department at 10 a.m., where he stood unmasked alongside several other officials, including Christopher A. Wray , the director of the FBI.

The Justice Department said in a statement on Wednesday that he asked to be tested after learning he had been exposed to the virus. Ms Raimondo said she used a home antigen test. Both are vaccinated and boosted.

Jamal Simmons, director of communications for Vice President Kamala Harris, also tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, according to a White House statement. He will self-isolate and work from home, but Mr Simmons was in close contact with Ms Harris. She will see her doctor and plans to continue her public schedule.

Ms Psaki has contracted the virus twice and returned to the podium last week after her second fight. His assistant, Karine Jean-Pierre, came out with the virus. Other administration officials have contracted the virus and have not announced it.

This week, Representatives Joaquin Castro of Texas and Adam B. Schiff of California, both Democrats, said they tested positive after attending the Gridiron. Other Democrats who did not attend the dinner announced positive tests, including Rep. Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, Deputy House Speaker and Rep. Scott Peters of California.

Besides the Gridiron, reporters and administration officials who attended a number of other parties and events reported that they had contracted the virus. A going away party for Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, last week repelled several positive cases among attendees, including journalists.

The spread has also affected the book holiday circuit: A celebration for Valerie Biden Owens, the president’s sister, was postponed on Wednesday.

But the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the next big party on the horizon, and is still going strong, according to an email from Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Dinner will require a coronavirus test result the same day, according to a scheduling email. The White House did not say whether Mr. Biden would be present.

The president was last tested for the virus on Monday and tested negative, a White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said on Wednesday, adding that he is expected to be tested again this week. .

Isabella Grullon Paz, Zach Montague and Lauren McCarthy contributed report.

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