WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci has decided not to attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday amid concerns about Covid, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.
Fauci, 81, President Joe Biden's top Covid adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he decided not to go to the dinner "because of my individual assessment of my personal risk." His decision was first reported by CNN.
Biden, 79, and first lady Jill Biden, 70, plan to attend the event at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, the first time the event has been held since 2019 because of the pandemic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the president will not be there for the dinner portion of the night's festivities, and that he may wear a mask when he's not giving remarks.
“Just like anything it’s a risk assessment and a decision he made on a personal basis,” she said.
A few thousand people have attended the dinner in previous years, held in a large ballroom at the Hilton hotel. Washington, D.C., lifted its mask mandate for many indoor public venues in February.
When asked about Fauci's decision to skip Saturday's event, Psaki said, “He can speak for himself and his decisions, and every individual will make their own decisions about whether they attend this event.”
Biden’s attendance would mark the first time a sitting president will be at the dinner since Barack Obama attended in 2016. Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, will be the featured entertainer at this year’s dinner.
Covid cases have been rising again due to the omicron sub-variant that has been spreading across the country.
Vice President Kamala Harris, 57, tested positive for Covid on Tuesday and was not exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms, her press secretary, Kirsten Allen, said. An adviser to the vice president later said Harris’ physician prescribed the therapeutic drug Paxlovid, a Covid antiviral pill from Pfizer that has been cleared for use in people at high risk for developing severe illness.
A source familiar with the matter said Fauci made the decision not to attend the dinner before Harris tested positive for Covid.
Biden’s experience at the dinner will be different than that of other guests like Fauci. The president will be seated at the head table, on a dais, and will only be interacting with the people on stage, not the larger crowd at the dinner. Fauci would have been seated on the main floor and would be in closer proximity to more people.
Some experts have questioned whether the dinner should even take place because of the increase in Covid cases. In early April, at least 72 people tested positive for the disease after attending the Gridiron Dinner in Washington.