CNN: Sure looks like Nerd Prom turned into another Beltway COVID-19 superspreader after all

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Will the next epicenter of a Beltway COVID-19 outbreak be … Kim Kardashian? Actually, it might just as well be ABC’s Jon Karl, or even Anthony Fauci. Late yesterday, the network reported that Karl had tested positive for the virus after having tested negative directly before the White House Correspondents Dinner. Politico’s Max Tani takes note of Karl’s direct contacts:


ABC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl has tested positive for Covid-19, people familiar with the matter confirm, days after sitting next to Kim Kardashian at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and interacting with President Joe Biden.

Karl received an award in the “Excellence in Presidential Coverage Under Deadline Pressure” category for broadcast while at the dinner. He appeared on the dais, received his prize, shook hands with several others there, including Biden, and subsequently spoke at the microphone. Karl was also pictured at a table sitting next to Kardashian and one spot over from her boyfriend, Pete Davidson.

“He tested positive for COVID Monday night, but tested negative on Saturday afternoon before the White House Correspondents Dinner by medically-supervised staff,” a person familiar with the matter said. “He had no symptoms on Saturday. Jon is currently isolating and participating in contract tracing.”

If that’s the case, then Karl likely didn’t bring it into the WHCA dinner. Who did? At this point, it may not matter, even if contact tracing works. CNN reports that the Nerd Prom Flu has rapidly spread through the news media ranks in the hours that followed:

Trevor Noah joked about the event becoming a superspreader — and now the cases are rolling in. The annual White House Correspondents Dinner, along with the festivities held in the days before and after it, have led to the inevitable spread of Covid.

In the days since WHCD weekend, reporters and staffers from CNN, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Politico, and other participating news organizations have tested positive for the virus. Most notably, ABC’s Jon Karl, who shook hands with President Biden and who sat next to Kim Kardashian, has fallen ill, as Politico’s Maxwell Tani first reported.

There is no exact data to indicate precisely how many people have caught the virus from the weekend. But, anecdotally speaking, much of Tuesday afternoon seemed to consist of attendees trading text messages and emails about colleagues and friends and people they had seen who had tested positive. That’s almost certainly going to continue in the days ahead…


In fact, it’s not even clear whether the outbreak began at the dinner itself. It was much easier to pin the previous Beltway outbreak on the Gridiron Dinner, Oliver Darcy explains, because it was the only event that night. The WHCA dinner involves a number of parties, and that will make it even more difficult to track down the outbreak’s origin:

In the days ahead, there will probably be stories that draw comparisons between the WHCD and Gridiron. But there is a key difference between the two events: Gridiron is a singular event, whereas the WHCD is bookended by dozens of parties held by news orgs and talent agencies. In other words, it will be difficult — impossible? — to identify specifically where the spread of Covid actually occurred.

Was it at the dinner, which required same-day testing and vaccination? Or was it at one or more of the parties? Remember, the WHCA had no oversight over the outside events. Some of the orgs that hosted them implemented strict Covid precautions, others did not. And there were many events in which people were tightly packed into small, confined areas with little ventilation…

And … you remember who attended at least one of those Nerd Prom auxiliary parties, right? None other than Fauci himself, sans mask, as Allahpundit noted on Monday. Fauci’s disdain for the actual dinner didn’t extend to the rest of the festivities, and now he might have put himself at risk anyway … to the extent there is a risk:


That, by the way, was at a party before the actual dinner. That brings up an interesting question — did the pre-events have the same screening rules as the dinner itself and the post-dinner parties? If not, why not? And if so … how did COVID-19 get into any of these events in the first place?

We can speculate all we want, but the “superspreader” tag isn’t really the issue. We know that the current Omicron variants of COVID-19 are incredibly transmissible, even with masks on everyone’s faces. We also know that these variants are demonstrably mild. The Gridiron Dinner “superspreader” event infected a wide swath of DC politicos and staffers, many of them elderly, and … resulted in no reported hospitalizations or deaths. In fact, it’s not clear whether it resulted in a single seriously acute symptomatic case. Dave Weigel noticed that the media largely ignored the reality of COVID infections these days a couple of weeks after hyperventilating about “superspreaders”:


If you’re vaccinated, boosted, and/or have been exposed to COVID already, you’re  overwhelmingly likely to have mild or no symptoms from an Omicron infection. The rapid transmissibility of Omicron variants have all but assured nearly universal exposure in the US, and yet even correlative hospitalizations and deaths are far below the previous peaks seen in the pandemic phase:

By the way, CDC data for Washington DC as presented by the New York Times shows an even lower level of correlated deaths in DC. One month after the Gridiron Dinner’s “superspreader” outbreak, correlated (not causative) deaths are at 0.07 per 100K, and the seven-day average of diagnosed cases barely ticked upward.

The real lesson from the Gridiron Dinner and the WHCA events, contra Trevor Noah, isn’t that we need to hide from each other. It’s that we can have confidence in the vaccines and the therapeutics and re-engage. We should treat COVID-19 like we treat the flu — stay home if you’re symptomatic and get therapeutics and medical assistance, but otherwise get on with your life. And maybe our national media can get on with theirs, too.

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