WASHINGTON: On Saturday, comedian Trevor Noah stood before a ballroom of 2,600 journalists, celebrities and political elites at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and asked: What are we doing here? “Did none of you learn anything from the Gridiron Dinner?” he said, referring to another elite Washington gathering in April, after which dozens of attendees tested positive for Covid. “Do you read any of your own newspapers?”
By Wednesday, Noah’s chiding remarks at what he called “the nation’s most distinguished superspreader event” were beginning to appear prophetic as a growing number of attendees, including a string of journalists and secretary of state Antony Blinken, said they had tested positive for the virus. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that President Joe Biden had tested negative on Tuesday after attending the dinner unmasked. Psaki added that Blinken was not considered a close contact and “has not seen the president in several days.”
Journalists across several major news organisations reported testing positive. Among those were Jonathan Karl, ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent, who shook hands with Biden during the dinner. CNN reported that those infected also included staff members from its network, as well as NBC News, CBS News and Politico. It was unclear how many cases had been confirmed as of Wednesday evening. Steven Portnoy of CBS News, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said on Tuesday the cases he knew of at that time numbered in the “single digits.” Portnoy did not respond on Wednesday. The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner required proof of vaccination and negative test.
Jada Yuan, a reporter at Washington Post who tested positive, said the ballroom was “like a horror film.” “No exits. Literally getting trapped between tables,” Yuan tweeted. “Fear of breathing near people but people are everywhere.” The Post reported that some White House officials were worried that safety measures were insufficient, and that the WH Correspondents’ Association had rebuffed an offer to have a firm install — at no charge — devices that disinfect air using ultraviolet light.