A handful of coronavirus cases have emerged among people who attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner over the weekend, the president of the correspondents’ association said on Tuesday.
Steven Portnoy of CBS News Radio, who leads the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the cases he knew of so far numbered in the “single digits.”
Among those who tested positive after the gala — an annual event that skipped two years because of the pandemic — was Steve Herman, a chief national correspondent for Voice of America. Jonathan Karl, ABC News’s chief Washington correspondent, also tested positive, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Official case counts in Washington have largely been decreasing since the winter Omicron surge, but there has been a modest increase since mid-April. But the true number of cases is uncertain, as home tests generally are not officially reported and asymptomatic people may not realize they are infected and capable of spreading the virus.
Many had wondered whether it was advisable to gather a crowd of 2,600 into the packed hotel ballroom of the Washington Hilton hotel. Their concerns were underscored after dozens of people, including several members of Mr. Biden’s cabinet, recently tested positive after attending a smaller political gathering, the Gridiron Dinner.
Attendees at that event were required to show proof of vaccination, but no same-day coronavirus test results. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner required proof of vaccination and a same-day negative test, and boosters were strongly encouraged. Masking was optional at both.
Mr. Karl’s positive test was first reported by Politico, which also reported that he shook hands with President Biden at the event.
The White House, asked about that encounter, pointed on Tuesday night to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which considers “close contact” to mean at least 15 minutes spent within six feet of an infected person. White House protocols also required anyone who would have been onstage in proximity to the president, including Mr. Karl and the comedian and cable television host Trevor Noah, to take a medically certified test, according to a person familiar with the protocols.
Mr. Karl tested negative on Saturday afternoon and had no symptoms, but then tested positive Monday night, the person familiar with his situation said.
Mr. Biden, 79, did not wear a mask when making remarks onstage or during Mr. Noah’s commentary, which lasted roughly half an hour, but he skipped the knife-and-fork part of the dinner. Mr. Biden nodded to the safety precautions around the event in his remarks. “We’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic,” he told the crowd.
Mr. Noah opened his remarks bluntly. “It is my great honor to be speaking tonight at the nation’s most distinguished superspreader event,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “No, for real, people, what are we doing here? Let’s be honest, what are we doing? Like, did none of you learn anything from the Gridiron dinner? Nothing?” More laughs.
“Do you read any of your own newspapers?” he went on, adding: “You guys spent the last two years telling everyone the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large indoor gatherings. Then the second someone offers you a free dinner, you all turn into Joe Rogan.”
The extravagant gala is often bookended by a number of other parties and receptions in the capital, which set their own safety guidelines.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top medical adviser on the virus, pulled out of the dinner last week, citing an “individual assessment of my personal risk,” though he reportedly attended a related indoor-outdoor brunch event over the weekend.
Mr. Portnoy emphasized on Tuesday that the protocols the correspondents’ association implemented for the dinner itself went beyond current guidance from health agencies and pointed to an email he sent members in April.
“Nothing we implement to protect the ballroom can reach the many social events other organizers throw around our dinner,” he wrote in that email. “Bear that in mind.”