White House briefing room capacity to be reduced amid COVID-19 surge

The White House Correspondents Association (WCHA) on Sunday announced it would temporarily reduce capacity for journalists attending press briefings, citing concerns about a spike in COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant surges nationwide.

The board of the WHCA voted unanimously to return to the reduced seating arrangement that was in place from last summer until earlier this year, with 14 seats out of the 49 in the room being used, association president Steve Portnoy announced in an email to the organization's members.

"Given the virulence of the spread, medical experts have once again advised that it would be prudent to substantially reduce the number of people working in the cramped, poorly ventilated workspace that we share," Portnoy said.

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The WHCA intends to revisit the seating arrangement later in the month, depending on case rates.

"A primary objective is ensuring we are able to hold the administration accountable to the public, while preventing an outbreak that might limit our ability to cover the president in close quarters," Portnoy said.

The WHCA has for weeks been urging reporters working out of the White House to take a rapid COVID-19 test if possible before coming to the building, and to wear a high-quality mask like an N95.

The country has in recent weeks seen record-setting numbers of coronavirus cases as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads across the country. While experts have said those who are vaccinated against the virus are less likely to have a serious case, the sheer number of cases has threatened to put a strain on hospitals.