COVID-19 scrambles White House St. Patrick’s Day plans

Thursday was set to be a celebratory day at the White House, with President Biden reveling in his Irish roots at in-person St. Patrick’s Day events that were ruled out last year by the pandemic.

But the White House was forced at the last minute to adjust its plans to mark the holiday after a pair of high-profile positive coronavirus tests.  

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive on Tuesday, and the Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, Micheál Martin, tested positive Wednesday night shortly after meeting briefly with Biden and sitting next to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a gala. 

Martin was scheduled to meet with Harris at her residence on Thursday morning before meeting with Biden at the White House. Both Biden and Martin were expected to attend a luncheon at the Capitol before Martin and his wife joined Biden and first lady Jill Biden for a traditional shamrock presentation. 

Instead, the meeting with Harris was scrapped, and Martin met virtually with Biden despite having already traveled to Washington, D.C.

“Last year we met virtually across the Atlantic. This year we’re meeting virtually across the road. So we’re getting closer,” Martin said with a laugh during the meeting. 

Biden, wearing a green tie, said he was “deeply sorry for the inconvenience that we’re having to meet virtually again this year.” 

Martin’s positive test seemed to initially threaten the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the Capitol given his close proximity to Pelosi the night before. But it went on as planned, with Pelosi saying she wasn’t concerned about a potential exposure and that she’s tested almost daily. 

Neither Pelosi nor Biden wore masks as they sat near each other and interacted during the luncheon, which was attended by numerous other lawmakers.

“Like so many Americans of Irish heritage, I love Ireland. And I was raised in a circumstance where you’d would’ve thought my whole family — they came in 1844 and 1845, but you’d think they’d all lived in Ireland the last 60 years,” Biden joked in remarks at the event during which he also spoke about his heritage, the relationship between Ireland and the United States and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Harris did not participate in the virtual bilateral meeting, nor did she attend the luncheon, but she held a ceremonial swearing-in for Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young where both wore masks.

The day was the latest example of the White House forging ahead with a return to normalcy as the pandemic eases, despite the continuing risk of positive cases.  

Biden just this week hosted dozens of lawmakers for bill signings and an event marking the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. He has mingled face-to-face with guests, and the White House has dismissed concerns about his COVID-19 risk by noting he was not considered a close contact of the second gentleman, the taoiseach or a handful of House Democrats who tested positive after attending a retreat last week where Biden spoke.

Biden last tested negative for COVID-19 on Sunday, the White House said.

Tags Doug Emhoff Jill Biden Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Shalanda Young

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