3RD UPDATE, April 9, 10:31 AM: The Gridiron Club said that there were 53 positive tests reported among the attendees at last Saturday’s dinner.
Meanwhile, as invites start to go out for event surrounding the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30, some outlets are taking greater precautions than the Gridiron did for its event. ABC News is requiring proof of an antigen test within 24 hours of their pre-dinner reception, in addition to a proof of vaccination. The Gridiron required proof of vaccination but not testing, the WHCA dinner itself will require proof of same-day negative test but not vaccination.
2ND UPDATE, April 7, 2:05 PM: So far at least 14 attendees of Saturday’s Gridiron Club dinner have tested positive for Covid.
In a note sent to Gridiron members, club president Thomas DeFrank wrote, “As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, we know of 14 guests at Saturday’s dinner who have tested positive for Covid. There is no way of being certain about when they first contracted Covid. But they did interact with other guests during the night and we have to be realistic and expect some more cases. Except in cases of public officials who have on their own disclosed their status, we will protect the privacy of guests who test positive.”
DeFrank said that the Gridiron will alert “anybody who was in close proximity with a positive case.” He urged those sitting across the table or on either side of the positive person to get tested.
“Our top concern is the health of all our Members and guests,” he wrote.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Wednesday that they have tested positive, as has Jamal Simmons, communications director to Vice President Kamala Harris. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also said that they have tested positive.
UPDATED: Jamal Simmons, communications director to Vice President Kamala Harris, has tested positive for Covid.
Harris’ press secretary, Kirsten Allen, said in a statement that Simmons “was in close contact to the Vice President as defined by CDC guidance.” She said that Harris will continue to consult with a physician but plans to continue with her public schedule.
Simmons was among the administration figures who attended the Gridiron Dinner on Saturday, according to an attendee. He and others have since tested positive, including Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
“Jamal is isolating and working from home,” Allen said.
PREVIOUSLY: Attorney General Merrick Garland is the latest attendee of last week’s Gridiron Dinner to test positive for Covid-19, in what may be an outbreak at a D.C. A-list gathering that draws cabinet members, media personalities and Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who spoke at the event, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also have tested positive. According to the Washington Post, at least a half-dozen journalists also have tested positive, along with members of the White House and National Security Council staff.
The Justice Department said that Garland asked to be tested on Wednesday afternoon “after learning he may be exposed to the virus.”
The word of a potential Covid outbreak at the event sent a number of attendees seeking Covid tests. An employee at one site in northwest D.C. said that they have had a discernible uptick in the past day.
Although President Joe Biden addressed the crowd of more than 600 via video, Garland was among six cabinet members to attend, while Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu were among the other speakers. Most attendees did not wear masks, including Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, although none are required any longer in D.C. public spaces.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who also attended the event, told reporters that when it comes to ensuring that Biden is not exposed, “We have continued to implement stringent and strict protocols.” Psaki herself tested positive last month, and had only returned to the White House late last week.
Attendees of the Renaissance Hotel were required to show a proof of vaccination, but not a negative test. There also was little social distancing, with guests seated at long tables.
The dinner, held by the Gridiron Club And Foundation, a group of 65 Washington-based journalists, had been canceled the past two years because of Covid, and its return this year was to be a signal of a return to normal on D.C.’s social scene. Later this month, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is planning to hold its higher-profile event, an annual gathering that draws nearly 3,000 at the Washington Hilton. The WHCA plans a testing requirement for entry.
The Gridiron dinner has been a tradition dating to the 19th century, and retains some of the elements of a bygone era. It’s white tie, and the evening ends with attendees locking arms and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
Another tradition is for journalists to perform skits of events in the news, with satire that singes but does not burn, in the club’s words. This year, one skit, called “Covid Blues,” featured a member playing Fauci and others as Democratic voters. Among the lyrics: “Doctor, Doctor: We shut the schools/But that did not stop our Covid blues/We lose voters every day/Can we just all throw those masks away?”
Others at this year’s event included Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Republican senators Roy Blunt and Susan Collins, and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Ed Markey. The Senate is planning a vote on the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court this week.
Such media figures as Jane Pauley and Garry Trudeau, author and historians Ron Chernow and Michael Beschloss and Dallas Cowboys icon Emmitt Smith also were among the guests.
There is some expectation that Biden will attend the WHCA dinner, which also will feature Trevor Noah as the entertainer. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump declined to attend the WHCA dinner, but did attend the Gridiron, in 2018, and sent his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the next year.
This year’s event had its share of Biden barbs — and some sharp ones about Trump. According to the Post, Sununu, a Republican, at first seemed to talk as if he was a Trump loyalist, before telling the crowd, “He’s f*cking crazy.”
“I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.”
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