Gathering so many top government officials for an evening of nonpartisan satire and laughter might have been dangerous. Members of Congress and the Cabinet have tested positive for the coronavirus since Saturday's Gridiron Dinner, an annual white-tie event in Washington. Attorney General Merrick Garland added his name to the list Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Post reports. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro had already announced their positive test results. President Biden addressed the event remotely.
The White House doesn't consider Garland a close contact of Biden's, per CNBC. Still, the toll goes beyond those four people. Many more officials, aides and journalists—including some at the White House—have said, often privately, that they've caught the virus recently, per Politico. There were 630 people at the dinner, where there was little masking or social distancing; the guests sat at long, narrow tables for hours, per the Post, then wrapped up the evening by holding hands and singing "Auld Lang Syne," a Gridiron tradition. The crowd included military and diplomatic officials also, as well as businesspeople. The servers wore masks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, attended the dinner, as did Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova. Fauci later said he wore a mask except when eating. The outbreak puts the similar but larger White House Correspondents Association dinner later this month in doubt; Biden hasn't said yet whether he plans to attend. It also could imperil congressional business. Senators were at the dinner, and Democrats plan a vote on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination this week. Experts said that though COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, such breakouts can happen. "We're trying to see what’s a tolerable level of risk, but when you have a big outbreak, that makes everybody pause," one said. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)