Foci, Biden’s chief infectious disease specialist and chief medical adviser, did not directly criticize Biden or other officials, and people involved in the unregistered conversation said his mention of the reporters’ dinner was part of a broader appeal to health experts. to emphasize that the fight against the pandemic is still ongoing.
But Foci’s criticism stood out because it seemed to contradict him with a more relaxed stance on the dinner taken by White House and COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Ja, who attended the dinner and also attended the call on Thursday.
“Looking back, I’m curious what the hell was in Ashish’s mind at the time,” said one of the participants in the call to POLITICO.
Ja did not respond to Foca’s remarks during the meeting, call participants said. On Friday, a White House spokesman pointed to Ja’s comments during a April 17 TV interview that large events, such as reporters’ dinners, could be held safely.
“I don’t think such events should be canceled,” Ja told Fox News. “I think that if people introduce good protection measures, they will be able to make it much safer, make sure people are vaccinated, do tests, improve ventilation. These are strategies we have learned over the last two years. ”
Ja reiterated that belief during a speech on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, paying tribute to the White House Correspondents Association for “what we know makes the event safer.”
Foci’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. But a person familiar with his remarks stressed that Foci did not directly take into account the wisdom of holding the annual press service dinner – and that the event was not the focus of Thursday’s briefing. Rather, his comments reflected widespread concern that the nation needed to continue to fight Covid and protect the vulnerable.
The Biden administration has conducted periodic non-registration calls with a group of renowned health experts and commentators to provide updates and request feedback on the response to Covid. Thursday afternoon’s conversation initially focused on the need for more Covid funding, although the discussion also touched on issues of fairness and public relations.
Foci, 81, had previously decided not to attend the event out of fear for Covid’s own risk. However, Biden and First Lady Jill Biden – both 70 – went for part of it, as did many other high-ranking administration officials, including Defense Minister Lloyd Austin and Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mallorca. Also present were White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein, who was one of the few to wear the mask.
A few days before lunch, the White House downplayed concerns about attending a gathering of 2,500 people during the pandemic, stressing that everyone makes a personal decision and emphasizing the availability of vaccines and treatments needed to prevent serious illness.
Since then, several participants have received positive results, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, although it is unclear whether they were infected during dinner or various parties held over the weekend.
The White House Correspondents Association demanded that all participants be vaccinated and show evidence of a negative test. In a statement, WHCA President Stephen Partnoy told POLITICO that the organization “has implemented protocols that go beyond any recommendations or rules issued [Centers for Disease Control] or the Department of Health of the District of Columbia. ”
However, the decision to hold lunch for the first time since the pandemic hit the U.S. is receiving increasing attention as Covid cases grow again nationwide. The average daily new infections have doubled since early April, and CDC data show that the number of hospitalizations is also rising. Although few are expecting another surge along with the winter surge, health experts believe the cases are likely to increase as Omicron sub-options spread.
This rebound by Covid has also complicated the transmission of pandemic reports for the White House, which wants to overcome the public health crisis and move to an era more focused on fighting the disease. Biden’s top health officials, including Ja, have sought to cross a difficult double message that Covid no longer poses a serious threat to most Americans – but that the nation must take precautions to prevent the virus from returning.
A few days before lunch, Foci told PBS NewsHour that the country was “out of the pandemic phase” – only to clarify later that, although the United States was in better shape, they did not come out of the pandemic at all.
People on Thursday called that Foci took an even more insistent tone, saying at one point that those who returned to their normal lives without caring about vulnerable populations were “irresponsible.”