The gathering of Washington politicians and journalists last week at the Gridiron Club annual dinner, a prestigious event, has turned into a superspreader event, illustrating one downside of the "urgency of normal" club. One difference is that the elite status of attendees protects them, in many ways, from the reality of getting COVID.
So far, 72 attendees (of 630) have developed COVID, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.); President Biden's sister, Valerie Biden Owens; Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.); Vice President Harris' communications director, Jamal Simmons; Jill Biden's press secretary, Michael LaRosa; Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
"The Washington Post has learned of about a half-dozen journalists as well as members of the White House and National Security Council staffs who said they tested positive after the event."
President Biden's maskless appearance calls into question the safety protocols that stand between a 79-year-old man and a wily virus that is adept at evading even stringent safety measures.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also has tested positive but was not in attendance.
Not yet reported to be ill are other prominent attendees, including Dr Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.
Fortunately, waitstaff for the event, who can ill afford a COVID infection, were consistently masked.
Many other people, including President Biden, have met with those who are infected up to April 6, so we don't yet know how far this superspreader event will extend. It certainly raises concerns about the order of succession. Pelosi, Garland, and Raimondo are the second, seventh, and 10th people in the presidential order of succession.
Despite this outbreak, the White House held a reception for newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on April 8, with hundreds in attendance. At least the main event was on the White House Lawn.
"The [Gridiron] dinner was supposed to reflect a return to normalcy after being canceled the past two years because of the pandemic," given that the CDC has classified DC as "low burden" and no longer recommends a mask mandate. While the New York Post criticized the President for hosting this gathering, Dr Leana Wen, a prominent COVID speaker and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, said:
This is our new normal — one that's based on individuals being thoughtful about their own risks and the risks they pose to others.
Event organizers should decide the level of risk they can tolerate and the precautions they wish to take.
People who want more protection can choose to wear a high-quality mask."
What planet is she living on? Many were angered and disappointed by Wen's take on this, which seems to reflect the perspective of the "urgency of normal" crowd. And now Fauci appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid. How does "normal" work for the many people who don't know their own risks, let alone the risks they pose to others? Do you have diabetes, an autoimmune disease, or HIV that has not yet been detected? How about others you live with? Are they aware of health problems, let alone confided them to you?
Wen later tweeted, "If you are older or have medical problems that make you more susceptible to severe illness, have a plan for what happens if you get Covid-19.
Are you eligible for monoclonal antibodies & antivirals? Where can you access these treatments, including after hours/on weekends?"
Great advice! She and others suggest it is all about personal choice. This perspective comes from such an entitled position. They assume that you have access to such information — which is not readily available in areas like my town.
Here, neither the Allegany County Health Department nor UPMC has educated our community on treatment options for COVID. Because of their silence, I wrote a post for the Cumberland Times-News.
I was unable to find this info for the paper, despite my being a knowledgeable physician and contacting UPMC and the local health department. While CDC says, "Ask your doctor," locally, I was told, "Your doctor may not know," so call UPMC. The main thing I learned is that only one pharmacy in the region carries Paxlovid; it's 12-plus miles from my home. It may be very difficult to impossible for someone who is ill or poor and doesn't have a car to access treatment.
Even if you are aware of the medicines, you probably won't have timely access to them, especially if you live in a rural community.
My community only recently achieved a whopping 50% vaccination rate. As we hear more about breakthrough infections, even among those wearing an N-95, and the terrible long-term effects of COVID, it makes me reluctant to go out in this anti-mask, anti-vax community.
Some things could be done to get us back closer to normalcy. Require proof of vaccinations and testing before attendance at an indoor event (at a minimum) like the Gridiron dinner. Space people out. Perhaps don't have a meal with the entertainment. Six hundred–plus people eating and singing sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Improve ventilation. We have learned from Drs Prather, Richard Corsi, José-Luis Jimenez, Don Milton, and others how to do this. Having "Corsi-Rosenthal" boxes is effective and relatively inexpensive.
Use CO2 monitors as a measure of a room's ventilation and have the readings prominently displayed.
I'm sure there are other ways to mitigate risk. Listen to the aerobiologists I mentioned above.
But Wen throws the elderly, the immunocompromised, and vulnerable people under the bus. It doesn't have to be this way. Public health was supposed to protect us all. We didn't tell people to protect themselves from Typhoid Mary by being more selective in what they ate. Why would this be any different?
Wen's perspective — and similar ones — come from entitlement, with access to medicines and care that muggles don't have.
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She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and now works part-time. She especially loves writing about ethical issues and advocating for social justice. Follow her at drjudystone.com or on Twitter @drjudystone.
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Cite this: Judy Stone. The Gridiron Club Dinner Was a Predictable Superspreader Event - Medscape - Apr 13, 2022.