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Trevor Noah joked about the event becoming a superspreader — and now the cases are rolling in. The annual White House Correspondents Dinner, along with the festivities held in the days before and after it, have led to the inevitable spread of Covid.
In the days since WHCD weekend, reporters and staffers from CNN, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Politico, and other participating news organizations have tested positive for the virus. Most notably, ABC’s Jon Karl, who shook hands with President Biden and who sat next to Kim Kardashian, has fallen ill, as Politico’s Maxwell Tani first reported.
There is no exact data to indicate precisely how many people have caught the virus from the weekend. But, anecdotally speaking, much of Tuesday afternoon seemed to consist of attendees trading text messages and emails about colleagues and friends and people they had seen who had tested positive. That’s almost certainly going to continue in the days ahead…
What the WHCA is saying
I talked on Tuesday afternoon with White House Correspondents Association President Steven Portnoy. Portnoy told me this: “We worked hard to publicize our protocols and encouraged those eligible to get booster shots in the weeks leading up to the dinner. Our event implemented protocols that went beyond any guidance or regulation issued by the CDC or the DC health department. We wish anyone who may not be feeling well a speedy recovery.”
>> Also of note: While Karl did shake Biden’s hand at the dinner, to have gone on-stage at the event he would have had to have taken a medically certified proctored test that the White House uses because it believes it to be a measure of infectiousness, a source told me. Which is to say, it’s unlikely he was infectious at the time…
Different than Gridiron
In the days ahead, there will probably be stories that draw comparisons between the WHCD and Gridiron. But there is a key difference between the two events: Gridiron is a singular event, whereas the WHCD is bookended by dozens of parties held by news orgs and talent agencies. In other words, it will be difficult — impossible? — to identify specifically where the spread of Covid actually occurred.
Was it at the dinner, which required same-day testing and vaccination? Or was it at one or more of the parties? Remember, the WHCA had no oversight over the outside events. Some of the orgs that hosted them implemented strict Covid precautions, others did not. And there were many events in which people were tightly packed into small, confined areas with little ventilation…
Not an outlier
News orgs should also keep this story in perspective. It’s not 2020. With vaccines and booster shots being widely available, this type of event is no longer unique. Every day, people evaluate various risks and decide whether or not to take them. I can’t imagine a single person who attended the weekend of events who did not believe that they had a non-zero chance of contracting Covid.
Nate Silver made this point well. He tweeted, “There are undoubtedly 100s of crowded indoor gatherings across the United States every day. Not to mention millions of people dining at restaurants, going to work or school, etc. It is kinda weird to focus on the WHCD as though it’s some sort of outlier; it is very much the norm!”
- CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report