At least two senior US officials and two Congressmen have tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a white-tie dinner over the past weekend.
The US Department of Justice announced in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that Attorney General Merrick Garland tested positive for Covid-19 through antigen tests, Xinhua news agency reported.
Garland, fully vaccinated and boosted, asked to be tested after learning that he may have been exposed to the virus. At the time, he is not experiencing symptoms.
The statement also said the Attorney General will isolate at home for at least five days and will return to the office following a negative test for the coronavirus.
The positive test result came just hours after Garland spoke in person at a press conference alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray and other federal law enforcement officials.
The Attorney General reportedly went to the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday evening — typically one of the most high-profile annual Washington media events.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who also attended the event, is quarantined at home after experiencing mild symptoms and testing positive for Covid-19.
Congressmen Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro — two other attendees — made public their infections on Tuesday.
The Gridiron dinner is said to have hosted more than 600 government officials, members of Congress, diplomats, and media figures at the four-star Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.
The annual event, which has been held in various forms for more than a century, was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The total number of Covid-19 cases in the US has exceeded 80 million, with 980,000 related deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Covid-19 pandemic “is not over” and warned against the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 — now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the US.
“We know BA.2 is here,” Psaki said. “We know that it is more transmissible.”
She also reiterated that all White House employees who come in proximity to US President Joe Biden are regularly tested.
Biden, who signed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 into law at the State Dining Room on Wednesday afternoon, was last tested for Covid-19 on Monday and he tested negative, according to the White House.
Jamal Simmons, Communications Director for US Vice-President Kamala Harris, tested positive on Wednesday, according to a statement.
“Jamal was in close contact to the Vice-President as defined by CDC guidance,” the statement said.
“Jamal is isolating and working from home.”
The CDC, which stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defines close contact as someone who is less than 6 feet (1.8 metres) away from an infected individual for more than 15 minutes.
“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 statement added.
“The Vice-President plans to continue with her public schedule.”
Anthony Fauci, a top US infectious disease expert, said on Wednesday that he expects the BA.2 subvariant to fuel an increase in Covid-19 cases across the US.
“I would not be surprised if we see an uptick in cases,” Fauci, also the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House Medical Adviser, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.
The best way to avoid it, he recommended, “is to get more people vaccinated,” adding that “if you’re vaccinated, make sure you get boosted when your time comes.”