Covid Is Rocking Washington: Will This Change Plans For the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?

From POLITICO Playbook: Covid’s comeback bursts the D.C. bubble:

There’s no denying it: Covid is rocking Washington right now. Days after Saturday’s annual Gridiron Club dinner, multiple attendees of the boujee 600-seat confab have come down with it — including Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO, A.G. MERRICK GARLAND and Reps. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.) and JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-Texas).

By Wednesday afternoon, another high-profile attendee — JAMAL SIMMONS, comms director to VP KAMALA HARRIS — revealed that he, too, tested positive. That test result came just a day after he shook former President BARACK OBAMA’s hand at the White House’s Obamacare party, where President JOE BIDEN and 200 other high-level officials hobnobbed maskless while celebrating the health care law.

Throughout the District on Wednesday, the possible superspreader event was seemingly all anyone could talk about, as NYT’s Katie Rogers writes. Reporters and pols alike found themselves trading text messages about who sat by whom and whether so-and-so who was feeling ill got a positive test result. The entire situation, she notes, is a reminder “that, even as officials seek to pivot away from strict restrictions and encourage Americans to learn to live with the coronavirus, the pandemic is not over.”

The Gridiron dinner isn’t the only likely superspreader event piercing the This Town bubble. As Eugene, Sam Stein and Steven Overly reported Wednesday, “a number of individuals who attended a prominent antitrust conference in Brussels last week also came down with Covid … Additionally, a number of reporters who attended a going-away party for National Security Council spokesperson EMILY HORNE have tested positive for Covid.”


1. How will this affect the White House — especially POTUS? Biden is twice boosted, but let’s face it: He’s no spring chicken, and is demographically in a high-risk group. Even so, the 79-year-old has been out there mingling with the maskless masses at a bunch of events amid the D.C. spike. On Wednesday: ​​the national conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions and a postal bill signing event. On Tuesday: the White House’s Obamacare commemoration. On Monday: a South Lawn gathering, at which he posed for photos with attendees.

And as D.C. numbers increase, people have asked about the safety protocols surrounding the most powerful man in the world. WSJ’s Andrew Restuccia and Sabrina Siddiqui have some answers: “People who come into contact with the president, both staff and visitors, are tested for the virus that day. Meetings with the president often are socially distanced, the officials said. The White House has said it would make public any positive cases for staffers who have come into close contact with the president, first lady, vice president or second gentleman.”

Why the risk, you ask? Here’s the W.H. calculus, per Restuccia and Siddiqui: “Administration officials acknowledged that the president’s regular contact with advisers and supporters could expose him to Covid-19. But they said it was important for Mr. Biden to project a sense of semi-normalcy as many Americans are opting to leave their homes, return to work and socialize with friends. With midterm elections scheduled for the fall, a Wall Street Journal poll in March found that Democrats held an 11-point edge on which party would best handle the pandemic, down from a 16-point edge in November.”

2. Will this change the plans for “Nerd Prom”? Rogers aptly called this new surge the “invisible party crasher,” but it’s yet to be determined whether this unwanted guest will close down the party completely or just dampen the mood.Our ace colleagues on West Wing Playbook reported Wednesday night that when it comes to the much-anticipated White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the show will go on.

WHCA President STEVEN PORTNOY told Max Tani and Alex Thompson that “the organization developed guidelines months ago in preparation for a more-complicated-than-normal dinner. All attendees will have to show proof of a negative test the day of the event. There is no vaccine mandate (as there was for the Gridiron dinner), but the WHCA has previously said that the vast majority of its members are vaccinated and boosted, reducing the likelihood that contracting the virus would put many of those individuals at risk of serious illness.”

WHCA isn’t alone in refusing to call it quits, the pair add. “Talent agency CAA is putting on an exclusive party on a hotel rooftop near Logan Circle, while MSNBC and CNN are both still planning yet-to-be-announced parties. POLITICO is hosting several events, including the annual brunch at the home of founder ROBERT ALLBRITTON that will require vaccines and boosters for entry. The invites for UTA’s annual party Friday night at Georgetown’s Fiola Mare went out on Wednesday.” Party at your own risk, D.C. 

It’s Thursday morning — and Tarmac Fever is spreading throughout the Capitol. Thanks for reading Playbook, where we are also ready for the two-week congressional recess. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

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