At least two senior U.S. officials and two Congressmen have tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a white-tie dinner over the past weekend.
The Department of Justice announced in a statement Wednesday afternoon that Attorney General Merrick Garland had tested positive for Covid-19 through antigen tests, Xinhua news agency reported.
Garland, fully vaccinated and boosted, asked to be tested after learning that he may have been exposed to the virus. He is not showing any symptoms as yet.
The statement also said the attorney general will isolate himself at home for at least five days and return to office after testing negative.
The positive test result came just hours after Garland spoke in person at a press conference alongside Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray and other federal law enforcement officials.
Garland reportedly went to the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner Saturday evening — typically one of the most high-profile annual Washington media events.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who also attended the event, is quarantined at home after experiencing mild symptoms and testing positive for Covid-19.
Congressmen Adam Schiff from California, 28th district, and Joaquin Castro from Texas, 20th district, two other attendees, made public their infections Tuesday.
The Gridiron dinner is said to have hosted more than 600 government officials, members of Congress, diplomats and media figures at the four-star Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, DC.
The annual event, which has been held in various forms for more than a century, was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
The total number of Covid-19 cases in the US has exceeded 80 million, with 980,000 related deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the pandemic “is not over” and warned against the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2, now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the US.
“We know BA.2 is here,” Psaki said. “We know it is more transmissible.”
She reiterated that all White House employees who come close to President Joe Biden are regularly tested.
Biden, who signed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 into law at the State Dining Room Wednesday afternoon, was last tested for Covid-19 Monday and was negative.
Jamal Simmons, communications director for Vice-President Kamala Harris, tested positive Wednesday, according to a statement.
“Jamal was in close contact to the Vice-President as defined by CDC guidance,” the statement said. “Jamal is isolating and working from home.”
The CDC, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defines close contact as someone who is less than 6 feet (1.8 metres) away from an infected individual for more than 15 minutes.
“The Vice-President will follow CDC guidance for those that have been in close contact with a positive individual and will continue to consult with her physician,” the statement added. “The Vice-President plans to continue with her public schedule.”
Anthony Fauci, a top US infectious disease expert, said Wednesday he expects the BA.2 subvariant to fuel an increase in Covid-19 cases across the country.
“I would not be surprised if we see an uptick in cases,” Fauci, also long-time director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House medical adviser, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.
The best way to avoid it, he recommended, “is to get more people vaccinated”, adding that “if you are vaccinated, make sure you get boosted when your time comes.”
Meanwhile, a new study has suggested that Covid infection may increase the risk of a serious blood clot to 6 months.
People infected with Covid-19 are at an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot in the leg – up to three months, pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lungs – up to six months, and a bleeding event up to two months, the study, published in The British Medical Journal, found.
The study also showed a higher risk of events in patients with underlying conditions, and those with more severe Covid.
Researchers from Umea University in Sweden said these results support measures to prevent thrombotic events (thromboprophylaxis), especially for high-risk patients, and strengthen the importance of vaccination against Covid-19.
It is well known that Covid increases the risk of serious blood clots (known as venous thromboembolism or VTE), but less evidence existed on the length of time this risk is increased, if the risk changed during the pandemic waves, and whether Covid also increased the risk of major bleeding.
To address these uncertainties, researchers set out to measure the risk of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and bleeding after Covid-19.
For the study, the team identified more than one million people with confirmed Covid infection between Feb 1, 2020, and May 25, 2021, and matched them with more than four million people who had not had a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result.
The researchers found a five-fold increase in risk of deep vein thrombosis, a 33-fold increase in risk of pulmonary embolism, and an almost twofold increase in risk of bleeding in the 30 days after infection.
Risks were highest in patients with more severe Covid and during the first pandemic wave compared with the second and third waves, which the researchers say could be explained by improvements in treatment and vaccine coverage in older patients after the first wave.
Even among mild, non-hospitalized Covid patients, the researchers found increased risks of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. No increased risk of bleeding was found in mild cases, but a noticeable increase was observed in more severe cases.
“This is an observational study, so the researchers cannot establish the cause,” The BMJ report said.