Fighting over coronavirus safety at a press event 2022-04-27 12:53:17


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More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are due to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be held safely at this point in a pandemic.

Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces risk Corona Virus The infection, a reference to vaccines and testing requirements boosted after a dinner hosted by the Gridiron Club of Washington this month has been linked to At least 80 injuries That hit cabinet members, journalists and other guests.

However, some White House officials and experts are concerned that these measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile event, said three administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, a leading expert on the coronavirus is ditching party organizers who are reluctant to install ultraviolet air purifiers over concerns that the devices might interfere with the program.

Don Melton, the University of Maryland ecologist who advised the White House and others on it Airborne transmissionOffered to be installed by a company No charge was denied by both the Correspondents’ Union and Washington Hilton, which hosts the event. “I have enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a no-cost demonstration project, a temporary installation to help protect the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

In an interview with Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who is president of WHCA, He said the association had safety protocols in place and that Milton’s offer came too late.

“We are interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We are not in a position, with less than a week left, to fully understand the potential benefits or risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”

Correspondents’ dinner It arrives after weeks of wrangling over whether such events are still as risky as the rapidly spreading sub-variants of omicron, such as BA. 2, around the world — or if the risk of contracting coronavirus is just an additional risk to normal life in 2022, given the growing number of treatments to prevent the virus from developing into a serious illness for most people.

And Leana S. Wen, a Washington Post contributor, wrote that the Gridiron Club outbreak “shows what it’s like to live with covid-19.” This monthSaying that the issues are inevitable and cheering for the return of that party. “Almost all of us will catch COVID-19. Let’s prepare for when we do and resume living our lives in the meantime.”

But at least some individuals choose to bow. CNN first reported late Tuesday night that Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, canceled his plans to attend the dinner, citing his personal risks. In an interview on Wednesday, the 81-year-old doctor said it was his “personal choice” not to attend the event, though he emphasized that the US moving past The “full pandemic” phase of the virus.

As of Wednesday, the White House said Biden, 79, plans to attend the dinner to signal his support for the press.

Many Corona virus experts say that new infections associated with dinner and accompanying parties are inevitable, noting that local cases have risen, and key officials such as Vice President Harris have tested positive for the Corona virus this week and the huge number of attendees means that some infected people will contract the virus. Inadvertently slip through the established protective measures. The Reporters Association says it has sold 2,600 tickets for Shabbat dinner.

“I think it’s important for us to get back into some of these activities — and to do it in a way that recognizes the presence of the virus and the risks involved,” said Lynsey Marr, an engineer at Virginia Tech who also advised White House on coronavirus strategy. Marr credited the WHCA with adding a requirement that attendees provide evidence of a negative test on Saturday, but urged the association to move forward to tackle airborne transmission of the virus.

“I hope they do something to improve ventilation and filtration in the venue,” she said, noting that some guests, such as Biden, are at high risk due to their age and other factors. “There is a significant risk of him getting infected.”

WHCA dinners have been a spring rite in Washington since 1921, albeit with occasional interruptions—most notably the dinner cancellations over the past two years due to the pandemic.

Despite its name, journalists make up a minority of the guests in the black tie case. Attendees usually include people invited by media organizations, including advertisers, business executives, military officers, high-ranking government officials, and friends of well-connected people. Until former President Donald Trump boycotted the event, Hollywood celebrities and prominent sports personalities often attended, adding some sparkle to what was once dubbed the “Prom”.

This year’s event is back in shape, with Biden and several media and political leaders scheduled to attend, and comedian Trevor Noah preparing to give an after-dinner performance. But this weekend dinner has a new wrinkle, as invitees deliberate the risks of gathering en masse. Some people infected with coronavirus after the Gridiron Club dinner on April 2 had mild cases that resolved quickly, but others suffered Symptoms that persist for days or weeks.

Although the dinner will take place in the cavernous ballroom of the Washington Hilton, many attendees are expected to mingle in more confined spaces throughout the hotel, attending many of the before and after parties in close quarters, facilitating the potential spread of the virus.

The Washington Hilton did not respond to specific questions about current protections against the coronavirus.

“The safety and security of our guests and team members remains our top priority, and Washington Hilton remains committed to our commitment to providing a safe and hospitable environment for all who visit our properties,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. Events held at the hotel during the pandemic and referral of questions about the Shabbat dinner to the Correspondents’ Association.

White House officials also referred safety questions to the Reporters Association, even as top officials sought to anticipate life returning to normal after two virus-ridden years.

“We are in a phase of this pandemic … where I think we can safely congregate,” Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said on “Fox News Sunday” last week, noting that vaccines, testing and air purification could reduce risks. . associated with the virus. “I don’t think the events are like [the correspondents’ dinner] It should be abolished.”

Portnoy, President of WHCA, stressed that the association took multiple steps to ensure a safe evening.

“We are asking everyone at dinner to get tested for the coronavirus on Saturday, April 30th, and it shows [the negative result] Portnoy said. He said attendees are also required to be vaccinated.

But Melton, the expert at the University of Maryland, urged regulators to install more devices that effectively clean the air for attendees.

“When you bring that many people together, you really have to have highly efficient sewage systems in place. Just aeration and filtration are not enough,” Milton said.

distance Dozens of infections have been linked to the Corona virus At a Gridiron Club dinner three weeks ago, Melton said, he reached out to the Correspondents’ Association and arranged a conversation with a vendor, Far UV, who would have set up more than 100 devices temporarily at the Washington Hilton. Those work by purifying the air and range from small devices that look like smoke detectors to portable lights that can be installed around the room. Melton said he has no financial relationship with Far UV or any other company that develops UV devices.

But WHCA officials said conversations with Milton and Far UV came too late in their planning, and that they feared the lights could irritate the eyes of attendees, interfere with servers trying to navigate the hall — and even make someone like Biden appear blue when addressing the crowd.

In an interview, Milton said the technology has been demonstrated, referring to the White House last month Promote the benefits of ultraviolet rays disinfectant to combat the corona virus.

“We have really good data going back many decades,” Milton said, adding that he has been trying to convince the Reporters Association of the value of the devices for weeks, despite the group continuing to turn down offers. “The logic is not clear to me,” he said.

PJ Piper, president of Far UV, declined questions about his company’s conversations with the Correspondents’ Union but said school districts, the Department of Defense and other organizations have installed the devices. “Having an extra layer of protection that could be 10 times the equivalent air changes per hour that your HVAC system can provide is a big deal. If the virus isn’t in the air, you can’t catch it,” Piper said. “.

Other experts said the WHCA’s concerns about the technology were unfounded.

If installed correctly, Ultraviolet disinfection lamps” can be used safely. Do not penetrate the skin. Does not cause eye damage. David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University who led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and was He promoted the potential of technology, along with Milton. It’s “absolutely feasible” to install the lights ahead of Saturday’s concert, Michaels added.

Michaels also rejected the framework that safety during a pandemic hinges solely on individual steps such as vaccination, mask-wearing and testing. Instead, he said, officials need to install more “passive” measures to protect the public, such as improving air filters and ultraviolet lights to ensure gatherings remain safe for attendees as well as employees who work at such events.

“We need to do more to protect people before we pressure them to have a responsibility to protect themselves,” Michaels said.