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72 people at high-profile D.C. dinner test positive for Covid

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo were among the guests at the annual Gridiron Dinner.
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Seventy-two people have tested positive for Covid-19 after having attended the Gridiron Dinner in Washington last weekend, including members of the Biden administration and reporters.

Gridiron Club President Tom DeFrank said Sunday that the group had reported 72 cases out of the hundreds of people who attended. New York Mayor Eric Adams, who was also at the dinner, tested positive Sunday. It was the first Gridiron Dinner since 2019, before the pandemic, and guests were required to show proof of vaccination, DeFrank said.

Most of the spike since Saturday are not new cases but cases belatedly reported from earlier testing, he said. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has been fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive Friday and is experiencing mild symptoms, his office said in a statement Saturday, adding to a new wave of cases that has swept through the nation's capital.

Two other members of President Joe Biden's Cabinet, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, tested positive last week after they attended the annual social gathering of high-profile political media and business figures.

Garland attended a news conference with FBI Director Christopher Wray before he tested positive later Wednesday. The Justice Department said it was conducting contact tracing in accordance with protocols set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some lawmakers also tested positive after they attended the white-tie event, including Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

So did Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who announced her positive test Thursday after she voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Vice President Kamala Harris' communications director, Jamal Simmons; first lady Jill Biden’s press secretary, Michael LaRosa; and Valerie Biden Owens, the president’s sister, were also among guests who tested positive after the event.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he believes people should determine their own levels of risk and that those "who run big dinners, who run functions like the White House correspondents’ ball or, thinking back, the Gridiron Dinner, are going to have to make a determination looking at the CDC guidelines and seeing where the trends are."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who did not attend the dinner, also tested positive last week after she spent time with Biden and Harris. The president and the vice president tested negative last week.

"The protocols to protect the president are pretty strong. The president is vaccinated. He is doubly boosted," Fauci said. "Most of the time, people who get anywhere near him need to be tested. So we feel the protocol is a reasonable protocol."

Covid cases have plateaued across the U.S., although some experts have said incomplete data — some of it owing to a decline in testing — could be masking a rise. As of Thursday, cases in Washington were up by 58 percent over the previous two weeks, according to an NBC News count. According to the CDC, the highly contagious subvariant BA.2 of the omicron variant of the coronavirus now accounts for most cases in the U.S.