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Ex-surgeon general labels Gridiron Club dinner a ‘public health disaster’ after COVID outbreak

Greg Nash

Former surgeon general Jerome Adams is dubbing this month’s Gridiron Club dinner in Washington a “public health disaster” that should serve as a teachable moment.

“A mass gathering occurring during a global pandemic — attended by government leaders, members of the media who’ve regularly reported on the pandemic, and even the Centers of Disease Control Prevention director and the chief medical adviser to the president — resulted in the infection of 70 attendees and counting,” Adams wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday.

Several high-profile guests of the black-tie dinner in D.C. tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following the swanky soiree in early April, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), among others.

“There are so many unanswered questions about the details of the event – what the protective protocols were, who was impacted, what we thought we knew, what turned out to be wrong,” Adams wrote, “but the answers to those questions can help us do better and save lives in the future.”

Urging “thorough and transparent contact tracing,” Adams — who served as surgeon general under former President Trump — said that knowing how the coronavirus spread occurred “helps us prevent the next outbreak.”

Adams also pointed to questions about health equity following the VIP bash.

“So far, we’ve heard about attendees who were infected, but what about the staff working the event? It’s hard to believe that more than 70 attendees were infected but that no workers at the event were – workers who almost certainly had less wealth, were less likely to be insured and had much less choice in whether or not to be there in the first place,” Adams said.

“What was the vaccination and boost status of the individuals at the event who were infected?” he asked. “There is important information to be gleaned about whether or not third and fourth shots played a role in who was protected versus who wasn’t.”

The ex-surgeon general also questioned protective protocols at the Gridiron dinner, writing, “It would be nice to also know whether any ventilation precautions were taken. One of the most helpful but least used preventive measures for gatherings is thought to be promoting proper ventilation.”

Adams lamented that analysis of the Gridiron dinner “has been reduced to politics, finger-pointing and hyperbole” which has “distracted us from discussing the potentially lifesaving lessons to be gleaned from a critical scientific and health equity assessment.”

“Simply put, the American people deserve better from the White House COVID response team, public health officials and the news media. But despite politicians and pundits suggesting otherwise, mass gatherings that lead to mass infections cannot become our ‘new normal,’” he said.

Adams’s opinion piece comes just days ahead of one of the District’s most famed annual social events: the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner.

The April 30 dinner at the Washington Hilton hotel was canceled the past two years due to the pandemic. WHCA dinner organizers told ITK earlier this month, amid the Gridiron outbreak, each of the more than 2,600 guests expected at the soiree would be required to submit a negative same-day COVID-19 test. The WHCA later announced it would also require proof of vaccination for guests.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 COVID-19 cases COVID-19 outbreak Gina Raimondo Gridiron Club Jerome Adams Merrick Garland Trump

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