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Two Biden Cabinet members among dozens of positive Covid-19 cases after elite Gridiron dinner

<i>Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images</i><br/>Attorney General Merrick Garland tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday
Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Attorney General Merrick Garland tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday

By Paul LeBlanc, Jasmine Wright and Sam Fossum, CNN

Two members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, becoming some of 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 first lady Jill Biden’s press secretary, Michael LaRosa; Vice President Kamala Harris’ communication director, Jamal Simmons; Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro; California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff; Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins; and the President’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, 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 from CNN, and the government officials they cover. Attendees had their vaccination status checked, but negative Covid-19 tests were not required to enter.

As of Thursday evening, 37 positive Covid-19 cases had been reported following Saturday’s dinner, according to a letter from the club to its members.

Tom DeFrank, the president of the Gridiron Club, said in a statement Wednesday that “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.” Owens did not have close contact with Biden or the first lady prior to her test, according to a statement from Celadon Books.

LaRosa, who had tested negative earlier this week after attending the Gridiron dinner, confirmed to CNN on Thursday that he was experiencing mild symptoms and isolating at home.

Though typically in close contact with the first lady, LaRosa only saw her briefly Thursday at the White House. He told CNN his interaction with Jill Biden had lasted less than 15 minutes and that they were several feet apart, which under CDC guidance means the first lady was not considered a close contact.

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 told CNN.

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.

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments Thursday.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Karl de Vries, MJ Lee, Naomi Thomas and Kate Bennett contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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