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The Gridiron dinner was a perfectly American superspreader event

The willful ignorance that prompted the irresponsible high-profile dinner in Washington, D.C., encapsulates the U.S. Covid response.


As we continue to hear reports of Covid cases stemming from the Gridiron Club dinner, an annual roast held for political and media figures, the opportunities to dunk on so-called elites might be too open for some to ignore.

How does one not clown a bunch of tuxedoed and bejeweled politicos whose gathering turns into a superspreader event? At last count, at least 72 people who attended the April 2 event have reported positive tests, including Attorney General Merrick Garland.

A New York Post headline about the outbreak read, “COVID hits more than 70 attendees of swanky DC Gridiron dinner.” A Daily Beast headline talked about people catching Covid at the “Glitzy Gridiron Dinner.” While these high-class descriptors aren’t issues on their own, I worry they can distract from what went down that weekend: a typical display of Covid ignorance in America.

Photo Illustration: Attendees of a Gridiron Dinner in 2015
MSNBC / Getty Images

The U.S. has mounted one of the worst Covid responses of any wealthy country in the world, and even as new variants emerge — with all their mystery and potential danger — we continue to cling to the notion that the virus is behind us. This year’s Gridiron dinner, the first after a two-year hiatus, is a perfect example of that false hope. It’s especially easy to mock because the people reporting positive tests are all people we think should have known the potential risks of being there. 

But at this point, many Americans are taking similar risks with similar knowledge. And unfortunately, no one in the U.S. who makes that decision does so in a country that’s taking the virus as seriously as it should. 

We’ve known for weeks that the new omicron subvariant BA.2 is the dominant variant in the U.S., and none of us knows the full extent of its symptoms (long Covid is a thing, people). 

Despite that, conservatives in Congress are holding up vital funding that could help prevent widespread infections and new variants, there’s still an ongoing debate in the White House over whether to loosen mask requirements on public transit, and there’s seemingly no public appetite to reinstate some of the social distancing measures that have helped mitigate the virus in the past. 

The Gridiron dinner was one glaring example of what it looks like to defy the virus with disastrous results. But look around, Americans: I’m willing to bet the examples don’t end in Washington. And that's a problem.