By Allie Malloy and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden will take extra precautions to avoid catching Covid-19 at this weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner as anxiety about a potential superspreader event rises ahead of the widely attended gala.
Biden will skip the meal portion of the event, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday, and will opt to wear a mask when he’s not speaking. In recent weeks, the President has mostly been unmasked at crowded White House events, but those events had lower attendance than the dinner on Saturday, which is expected to have more than 2,000 people.
The annual black tie dinner — hosted by comedian Trevor Noah — returns on Saturday after a two-year hiatus, and Biden’s attendance marks the first time a sitting president has been at the event with members of the press since 2016. Concerns that it could become a superspreader have risen in Washington following the annual Gridiron Dinner weeks ago, after which dozens of attendees tested positive. The White House Correspondents Association is taking health precautions that dinner did not, including Covid testing requirements for attendees.
Psaki said the President’s decision to attend the large indoor event in Washington — where cases are now steady after rising following the decline of the Omicron variant’s wave — is “a risk assessment and a decision he made on a personal basis.” That decision was made in consultation with his doctors and health care team.
“He’s not attending for the eating portion of the dinner and he’ll be there for the program, which includes a number of speakers, the presentation of scholarships … his speaking, and his roasting,” Psaki said Wednesday.
In recent days, the White House has faced additional questions about whether Biden should attend the event, particularly after Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday. She was the latest member of Washington’s elite to test positive for Covid after a string of lawmakers and other high-profile political figures had contracted the virus.
CNN reported Tuesday evening that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, would no longer be attending Saturday’s dinner. Fauci had been invited to attend as a guest of ABC News and had planned on going, sources familiar with the matter said. He abandoned those plans this week because of an individual assessment of his own personal risk, the sources said.
Fauci said Wednesday that the country has reached a “different phase of the pandemic,” calling it “a transition phase, hopefully headed toward more of a control where you can actually get back to some form of normality without total disruption of society, economically, socially, school-wise, etc.”
“Each of us, in our own personal way, has to make an assessment of what risk you’re willing to accept about getting infected,” Fauci told CNN. “In general, the risk is low, but I made a personal assessment. I’m 81 years old, and if I get infected, I have a much higher risk.”
Psaki suggested Biden felt it was important to attend the dinner to showcase his support for the free press, adding that it stands “in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press on a nearly daily basis but also never attended the dinner.”
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CNN’s Brenda Goodman, Oliver Darcy and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.