But none of that has slowed down the juggernaut that is the city’s elite social scene. After two years at home, the Nation’s Capital Power Brokers are determined to get back to the serious business of having fun. The math: The rewards, at least for those vaccinated and boosted, outweigh the possible risk of catching the milder variants of the disease.
So 450 people gathered at the National Gallery of Art for the Thursday opening of “Afro-Atlantic Histories,” a groundbreaking exhibition of black art and artists at the city’s most prestigious art museum. Vice President Harris celebrated during the day after presiding over Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation to the Supreme Court, then at night by touring the show and addressing the crowd.
“A lot of history is being made today,” Harris said with a broad smile. “Tonight is exceptional as it is unlike any other in the history of the National Gallery.” The exhibition, she added, is “so extraordinarily meaningful and important. It tells the story of our common past but also of our common future.
“It’s one of the few things in the last couple of years that we haven’t thought about canceling,” said NGA manager Kaywin Feldman, who noted it was the first big gallery event since March 2020. ce. It was a long time ago, long two years.”
For many at the party, it was a “can’t miss” event. Museum officials and donors selected to meet Harris directly were tested beforehand, but requirements for the rest of the guests to present proof of vaccinations and wear masks without eating or drinking did not appear to be forced. NGA President David Rubenstein said he was “tested twice today and so I know I’m fine. And I just got vaccinated with my fourth booster today. I try to be careful, but there are no guarantees in life.
Rubenstein Skipped the Gridiron Dinner for the Duke-University of North Carolina NCAA semifinal game in New Orleans. His beloved duke didn’t make it (“It’s unfortunate but we lost. That’s life. Let’s move on.”) but he was still grateful: “I was supposed to go to Gridiron. I’m glad I didn’t go because everyone got sick.
While the The post-Gridiron cases caused a stir, it’s impossible to know which asymptomatic guests walked into dinner with the virus and who walked out – the ‘brought it or caught it’ question. Proof of vaccination was required, but guests mingled closely for hours in close quarters without masks. That being said, no one knows how bad the dinner itself is to blame.
Other attendees who tested positive include Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Jamal Simmons, director of communications for Harris.
The president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, was also invited and had to virtually promote her new book after testing positive on Wednesday. (The White House said it had not been in close contact with her brother.) As of Friday afternoon, more than 50 attendees had tested positive, or about 8% of guests.
Dozens of new coronavirus infections reported after Gridiron dinner
Pelosi, who was not at the dinner, announced Thursday that she had tested positive, two days after joining President Biden and former President Barack Obama at the White House to celebrate record-breaking Obamacare enrollment. Georgia Senator Raphael G. Warnock (D) also announced he tested positive this week.
It would be unfair to say Washington is jaded about contracting the coronavirus — it’s still a pandemic, after all. But the mindset has changed, and for those vaccinated, a positive test is unlikely to lead to serious illness. The desire to get back to normal – the fundraisers, the dinners, the gossip – took precedence over the fear that most people felt at the start of the crisis.
The past month has seen a revival of the kind of events held all the time in DC before the pandemic. President Biden was present the annual Ireland Funds gala, although early in the evening the Irish Prime Minister was informed of a positive test and had to leave. The Gridiron dinner — packed with administration officials, members of Congress, and media and business elites — was attended by 630 people. Local caterers say they are not getting any cancellations for upcoming parties.
Just this week, philanthropist Adrienne Arsht celebrated her 80th birthday at home for 150 of her closest friends. He stood under a huge tent; no testing required as all guests had been vaccinated. Former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hosted a small dinner party to mark the unveiling of his official portrait. British Ambassador Karen Pierce hosted a dinner at her residence for the White House Historical Association to honor its exhibit on the Queen’s visits to Washington.
As Pierce likes to say, “Diplomacy is a contact sport. While of course following appropriate District of Columbia CDC guidelines and regulations.
As with so many things in life, it depends on how much someone wants to show off. For many when the NGA opened, there was little debate.
“A lot of people weren’t going to miss that,” assistant manager Eric Motley said. “The historic nature of this particular moment at the National Gallery somehow transcended many worries and anxieties about what to go and what not to, even in light of Gridiron.”
Personally, Motley said he always wears masks and decides to attend parties based on size and guest list. “If it’s a really big event that’s over a few hundred people, I tend not to go,” he said. “If I go, I surround myself with people I know. Who helps. But it’s like the flu – anyone can catch this ever-changing covid. I take risks knowing that the experience will be rewarding and meaningful.
Which brings us to the upcoming White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the scintillating annual celebration of the press, the presidency, and the idea that we can all truly get along. President Donald Trump has rejected the event every year he was in office; President Biden has not officially announced his plans, but is expected to resume the tradition of the good-natured presidential roast and toast; Trevor Noah, who just hosted the Grammys, is the famous speaker.
Perhaps that’s why WHCA President Steven Portnoy insisted this week that the the show will continue. To reduce the chances of the 2,500-person dinner becoming a superspreader event, the organization is requiring each guest to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken dinner day April 30. The WHCA does not require proof of vaccination on the theory that most people present are already vaccinated and boosted.
Protocols for ancillary events are still unclear, but the parties before and after are traditionally crowded – the combination of free booze and celebrity sightings has always proven irresistible.
dinner is always in two weeks. Congress has just left Washington for the Easter vacation; omicron’s BA.2 subvariant continues to spread rapidly across the country. It’s unclear which A-list name will be next.
One person who won’t be there is Rubenstein. “It’s packed,” he said. “That one is always too crowded. I think they can live without me.