Dr. Anthony Fauci commented on the "PBS Newshour", this week that "we are out the pandemic stage" with Covid. He later clarified his comments, saying that decelerating figures indicate that we are not in the "full-blown explosive phase" of the pandemic. Fauci announced that he will not attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner this Saturday, which is expected to draw 2,000 people, due to the risk of contracting the virus. CNN reported that Fauci, who is 81, has a higher chance of getting infected if he does. President Joe Biden is 79. Both men are in a higher risk category for severe illness if they get infected by Covid.
There is a high risk of being exposed to the virus during the event. Jeremy Faust, a physician and researcher, estimated that there is a 50 percent chance of someone being infected during the event. This includes the current Washington case rate and negative testing on the day. The president is at risk of contracting the virus from an ongoing pandemic.
Gridiron Club's April event was a warning sign. It was associated with more than 80 cases (more than 10% of attendees). It was necessary to show proof of vaccination, although it is not clear if boosters were required. It was not necessary to test and very few masks were used. It was a "vaccination-only" event that ignored all other measures. Some of the attendees reported they are still not fully recovered. The spread to family, friends, and coworkers cannot be denied. This was the type of event that could in normal times trigger a CDC investigation into a possible outbreak.
The president is acting as though a pandemic was in progress, minimising his own risk, and taking the same layered precautions public officials have been advising for such events. These are the same precautions that health officials seemed shocked to not see in place for Gridiron. Jen Psaki, press secretary, said that Biden will probably wear a mask while speaking and will be absent from the dinner's eating portion. Psaki stated that it was a risk assessment and a personal decision.
If Gridiron dinner was an example of vaccines only being sufficient, then the White House Correspondents Dinner appears to be modeling the personal risks calculator: Person A can opt out, while Person B can opt in, but in a modified manner to minimize exposure. Person C is allowed to attend the event as if there had been a pandemic. These decisions were made after taking into account their personal health, the risks to their close friends, and the situation at hand: The crowd has been vaccinated (if necessary boosted), some sort of negative test has been performed that day, and ventilation quality has been or not assured.
However, this scenario ignores Person D who is the staffing person at the event. They cannot choose to stay home or modify their surroundings such as their time at the event. Cameron Shaw, a New York City beverage specialist and activist in hospitality, points out that while service workers have suffered the most from the pandemic, they rarely have access to health insurance, rapid access to new therapeutics, or quick access to health care. She says, "And now we find ourselves in environments serving (often wealthy) people who had the luxury to work from home with bombproof health care plans during the majority of the pandemic." "Those who depend on these wages to pay the rent don’t have the option of whether we’re here for people brazenly breathing on." The personal-risk calculator has a glitch. Anne Sosin, policy associate at Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center for Public Policy explained to me that it obscures the inequal terms of participation.
I would like to see more options for attendees to think about what might make it possible for Persons A, B and C to feel safe at this event. A universal mask, such as one of the N95s, KN95s, or KF94s would be a good idea to add security and protect our president against a real threat. This is especially important considering that our vice president was recently positive for Covid. This could allow Biden, as the primary roastee, to participate more fully in the activities than asking him to do acrobatics for the rest of the group. It would show support for worker rights. It could even permit Fauci to attend the "nerd prom," which he certainly deserves.
As cases move and change, we have all been making many decisions about risk for ourselves. Even though mask mandates were very common, there were millions of situations where personal judgment was needed. Some people would prefer that the social problems be eliminated. However, I recommend that we remain open to being inconvenienced. The national number of cases and hospitalizations is up. We are still part of a global pandemic. Respecting this means that we are respectful of all lives in the room and those who are connected to them.