WASHINGTON — On Saturday, comedian Trevor Noah stood in front of a ballroom of 2,600 journalists, celebrities and political elites at the White House Correspondents Dinner and asked, What are we doing here?
“Haven’t any of you learned anything from the Gridiron dinner? Nothing,” Mr Noah said, referring to another elite meeting in Washington in April after which dozens of attendees tested positive for the coronavirus. “Do you read all your own newspapers?”
By Wednesday, Mr. Noah’s rebuke to what he called “the nation’s preeminent super-diffuser event” began to seem prophetic as a growing number of attendees, including a slew of journalists, and Antony J. Blinken, the Secretary of State, said she had tested positive for the virus.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that President Biden tested negative on Tuesday after attending the dinner unmasked. Ms Psaki added that Mr Blinken was not considered to be in close contact with Mr Biden and “has not seen the president for several days”.
The growing number of cases showed another sign of an official Washington that has largely returned to prepandemic routines, even as officials are still urging Americans to take precautions, and has decided to live with the result.
Journalists from several major news organizations reported testing positive. Among them were Jonathan Karl, ABC News’ chief correspondent in Washington, who shook hands with Mr. Biden over dinner, and Steve Herman, the chief national correspondent at Voice of America. DailyExpertNews reported that the infected also included employees of its network, as well as NBC News, CBS News and Politico.
It was unclear on Wednesday evening how many cases had been confirmed. Steven Portnoy of CBS News, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said late Wednesday that “the number of cases brought to my attention now totals less than 1 percent of those in attendance.” He added that “many” social gatherings in Washington over the weekend had more lenient Covid protocols than the association’s dinner.
Dinner required proof of vaccination and a negative test on the same day, and boosters were strongly encouraged. Some people who reported infections also said they had attended other gatherings this weekend.
Dinner attendees expressed their resignation as the number of confirmed cases grew during the day on Wednesday.
“I’m another #WHCA weekend victim,” Julia Ioffe, a founder and Washington correspondent at Puck News, announced on Twitter on Wednesday. “I knew I was taking a risk and, well, here we are!”
Mark Leibovich, a reporter at The Atlantic who attended the dinner and spoke briefly with Mr. Blinken at a meeting the day before, said there had been an expectation that some guests would test positive. He noted Wednesday evening that he had tested negative for the virus.
“There was a cruise ship vibe of sorts” to the dinner, said Mr. Leibovich, who used to be a reporter for DailyExpertNews. He added that once guests were in the ballroom, “there was no escape” from the crowds.
Jada Yuan, a reporter at the Washington Post who tested positive on Wednesday had said after attending the dinner at the time that the ballroom was “like a horror movie”.
“No exits. Literally getting stuck between the tables,” Ms. Yuan wrote on Twitter† “Fear of breathing around people, but people are everywhere. The creepy feeling that you are the only one who knows this is insane.”
Many participants in the event, known as the nerdball, had undergone many risk-benefit calculations, considering whether the chance of contracting the coronavirus was worth attending the dinner and fancy pre- and post-parties.
The Post reported that some White House officials were concerned that security measures before dinner were inadequate, and that the White House Correspondents’ Association had made an offer to let a company install devices that disinfect the air with ultraviolet light for free. turned down.
dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser for the coronavirus, said he would not attend the dinner, citing his “individual assessment of my personal risk.” dr. Fauci was later photographed at a smaller pre-party outside for dinner on Saturday.