White House limiting size of gatherings amid omicron wave

The White House seen from the North Lawn
UPI Photo

The White House is currently limiting gatherings at the complex to under 30 people amid the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the wave of the omicron coronavirus variant, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. 

Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One that the policy has been put in place “over the last several weeks” and will remain “for this period of time.”

Psaki also said the White House has continued to adhere to other strict protocols designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst those in the West Wing, such as testing people who are expected to come in close contact with President Biden and Vice President Harris.  

Psaki said that the White House is strictly enforcing a mask requirement for the West Wing that extends to officials who are in their offices, unless they are alone. Video calls are also sometimes held in lieu of in-person meetings, Psaki said, though she noted that policy has been in place for months.

“We already had very strict precautions in place long before omicron,” Psaki said. “We have continued those and of course we will continue to build on those.”  

Cases in Washington, D.C., and other parts of the country have skyrocketed over the last month as the omicron variant spread throughout the United States. The increase in cases has caused some disruptions to business operations and schools.  

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are restoring social distancing protocols for floor votes and urging lawmakers to use K95 or N95 masks, which offer more protection than cloth masks.  

Biden has not held a large event at the White House in several weeks, and the White House also cut back Christmas celebrations at the end of the year, opting to hold holiday tours instead of traditional parties.  

The White House Correspondents’ Association also temporarily reduced capacity in the White House briefing room to 14 journalists due to the COVID-19 spike at the beginning of the month.  

Still, Psaki’s comments Tuesday were the first time that the White House disclosed a policy change for larger gatherings during the omicron wave.  

The White House is subject to Biden’s coronavirus vaccine requirement for federal workers and has reached 100 percent compliance with the rule, a White House official said last week.  

The COVID-19 vaccines protect against severe illness or death from the virus, including the omicron variant, but the virus has still resulted in breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals.  

A handful of Biden administration officials have reported testing positive for the virus since the start of the administration, including Psaki and more recently Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.   

A White House aide who had traveled with Biden subsequently tested positive last month. Biden, who is vaccinated and has received a booster shot, later tested negative for the virus. 

Tags COVID-19 measures Jen Psaki Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Social distancing White House

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