Two members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, becoming the latest high-profile Washington figures to contract the virus in recent days.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced their positive diagnoses after having attended the elite Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington on Saturday. Other attendees, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ communication director Jamal Simmons and Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro and Adam Schiff, have also announced positive tests.
The string of positive cases has turned attention in Washington to the Gridiron dinner, an event that brings together some of the city’s most prominent journalists, including and the government officials they cover. Attendees had their vaccination status checked, but negative Covid-19 tests were not required to enter.
Tom DeFrank, the president of the Gridiron Club, said 14 guests at Saturday’s dinner have tested positive and that other cases could be expected.
“As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, we know of 14 guests at Saturday’s dinner who have tested positive for Covid. There is no way of being certain about when they first contracted Covid,” DeFrank said.
“But they did interact with other guests during the night and we have to be realistic and expect some more cases,” he continued. “Except in cases of public officials who have on their own disclosed their status, we will protect the privacy of guests who test positive.”
Garland is not experiencing symptoms but asked to be tested after learning he may have been exposed to the virus, the Justice Department said. Earlier Wednesday, Garland had attended a news conference with other officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, to announce sanctions against Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.
Raimondo, meanwhile, is “experiencing mild symptoms” but is “confident that the vaccine has prevented her from experiencing more significant symptoms,” according to a statement from the Commerce Department Wednesday. Schiff said in a Tuesday tweet that he was “feeling fine,” and Castro reported in his own of “experiencing mild symptoms.”
Vice president a close contact
Harris had been in close contact with Simmons, who tested positive on Wednesday, press secretary Kirsten Allen said.
“The Vice President will follow CDC guidance for those that have been in close contact with a positive individual and will continue to consult with her physician. The Vice President plans to continue with her public schedule,” Allen said in a written statement.
In addition to having attended the dinner over the weekend, Simmons was also pictured in the East Room of the White House during the Affordable Care Act event with President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.
Biden is not considered to have been a close contact of Simmons, a White House official.
Inside the White House, in accordance with federal public health guidelines, officials and visitors have not been required to wear masks or social distance. Visitors are expected to be tested for Covid-19 before attending official White House events.
Simmons’ case isn’t the first to touch the White House.
Last month, second gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive for the virus, marking the first known case of Covid-19 among the first or second families since Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took office in January 2021. And White House press secretary Jen Psaki and White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre have also tested positive in recent weeks.
Covid-19 cases in Washington, DC, have declined since their peak in early January, when the country was facing a wave of Omicron variant cases. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday that he thinks there will be an uptick in cases of Covid-19 in the US over the next few weeks, and that it is likely that there could be a surge in the fall.
“I think we should expect … that over the next couple of weeks, we are going to see an uptick in cases. And hopefully there is enough background immunity so that we don’t wind up with a lot of hospitalizations,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, when asked by Bloomberg TV’s David Westin about the prospect of another wave of Covid-19 from BA.2 or another variant, given the level of immunity believed to exist in the US today.