This year’s annual Gridiron DinnerThe Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. suffered a devastating blow that few knew about, which is telling of the moment we are in. A few attendees took home doggy bags from the meal, everyone took home a story to tell, and 72 of them — more than 10 percent of the audience and climbing — took home COVID-19.
The names of the afflicted looks like a speaker’s list for commencement addresses in May. Attorney General Merrick Galrland, Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack all got infected. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Rep. Joaquin Castro from Texas, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (California) and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also brought home an uninvited guest at the elite event.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Raphael G. Warnock (Georgia) did not attend the dinner. However, both announcedThey were infected within the past week. It is clear that what happened at Gridiron did not stay at Gridiron. However, the vaccines, boosters, and other medications appear to have done their job. So far, all the cases reported have been milder, and no one has been hospitalized. Compare that to two Octobers ago when Donald Trump was elected. seriously illAfter being infected at another glamorous D.C. gathering.
The President Biden didn’t attend the dinner. He appears to be free from any secondary infection that may have resulted from his interaction with other guests.
Which brings us to the next big item on the D.C. social calendar: the upcoming White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. “The White House Correspondents Association will require those attending its annual dinner to be vaccinated against the coronavirus,” reports Axios. “The association was already requiring attendees to provide proof of a same-day negative COVID test. It is now also encouraging guests to get a second booster shot if they are eligible as soon as this week for ‘maximum protection.’”
Welcome, all and sundry, to the “Learning to Live With It” stage of the process. The Gridiron outbreak could be seen as a success story and a triumph for science in one sense. There was a lethal explosion of COVID cases that swept the country for nearly a year. 67 people were infected at major events and none of them died. That is the hoped-for impact of the vaccines — not to make people bulletproof, but to keep the symptoms manageable — and in this case, like HodorThey only had one job and they did it well.
Additionally, it’s probable that most of the Gridiron attendees were not only vaxxed to the max, but were not afflicted with conditions that would make them very acutely vulnerable to infection. The test sample we have here includes only those who are comfortable making a run at “Learning to Live With It.”
There are at least 7 million immunocompromised people in this country — many of whom would likely not have gone to that dinner, or to any event like it, for all the whiskey in Ireland. Add to that group people like me, who have prior health issues that make us ripe bait for COVID no matter how well-vaccinated we are, plus the elderly, and children under five (who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated), and you wind up with a substantial portion of the population with its nose pressed against the glass as other people take the risk, get infected, and live to fight another day.
If the moment is any indication, “Learning to Live With It” involves COVID sliding to the back of most people’s minds until a big story like the Gridiron outbreak jerks it to the fore again (New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has championed a return to normal in his city, has also been infected, is fully vaccinated and has no symptoms. It is hard to complain about that — for the love of God, people need a break after the last two years — but harder again to miss the peril involved.
More than 31,000 people were infected yesterday, a slight uptick from two weeks ago — and that number is likely low, given the number of people who are testing at home and not reporting their cases. Scientists are now studying the BA.2 subvariant as the dominant strain of COVID. watching like hawksto determine if it has enough muscle to produce another huge surge. If it does, “Learning to Live With It” will have to downshift hard back into “Duck, Cover and Mask.”
One of the greatest challenges we have ever faced is getting people to agree after a small amount of fresh air.