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At least 67 guests test positive for covid after Washington gala

More than 10 percent of attendees of Gridiron dinner have been infected with the virus.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a news conference at the White House on Sept. 8, 2021. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg)
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The number of attendees who have tested positive for the coronavirus after last weekend’s Gridiron dinner has risen to 67, organizers say, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who became the third member of Biden’s Cabinet in attendance who was infected.

The new figures, released Saturday evening by the organizers of the dinner, do not include the many staff members at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington who worked the event. Renaissance officials did not respond to repeated requests for information about the health status of workers or how many were assigned to the event.

Coronavirus variants like omicron, delta and mu are an expected part of the virus's life cycle, but vaccines can prevent more infectious variants from forming. (Video: John Farrell, Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

Organizers said the annual white-tie marquee dinner, held in person on April 2 after a two-year hiatus, attracted 630 guests this year.

The latest tally means more than 10 percent of guests in attendance have tested positive in the aftermath of the event. Most of the employees who worked the dinner wore masks, but most of the attendees did not.

Vilsack disclosed via social media on Saturday that he tested positive, saying “thankfully my symptoms are mild.” Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and Attorney General Merrick Garland also have announced positive tests in recent days.

Tom DeFrank, the president of the Gridiron Club, said in an email that so far he’s only heard of guests having “mild symptoms.” All guests had to show proof of vaccination before attending the event.

The major dinner resumed this year as official Washington has been returning to typical work and social patterns. It’s one of the most prestigious Washington events and attracts top government officials, key White House aides and many journalists.

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The outbreak has shaken official Washington and served as a reminder that the virus continues to spread even though hospitalizations are well below the omicron-fueled surge from earlier this year.

President Biden was photographed Saturday leaving the White House for Delaware wearing a mask. He was accompanied by his wife, first lady Jill Biden, who was also wearing a mask. Neither of the Bidens attended this year’s dinner.

The president had, however, interacted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi twice last week before she announced that she tested positive for the virus. But the White House said that both interactions were short and did not put him at risk.

The somewhat haphazard approach to shielding the president and others in the line of succession is worrying some health experts, who believe that a more consistent and stringent regimen should be followed to protect the nearly 80-year-old president.

Biden’s pandemic practices vary as covid risks grow

Still, White House aides have acknowledged that the president might contract the coronavirus.

“I do think it is important to note it is possible he will test positive for covid at some point,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Friday on CNN’s “New Day.” “The president is vaccinated and double boosted, and so protected from severe covid. We take every precaution to ensure that we keep him safe.”