Reporters vote to slash attendance at daily briefings, citing ‘virulence’ of the Omicron variant
Washington journalists have decided that they’d rather give up face-to-face opportunities to press for answers from the White House than set aside their fears of catching Covid-19.
On Sunday, the White House Correspondents Association voted to reduce daily attendance to press briefings from 49 to 14. The unanimous vote followed a failed effort last month to persuade White House press secretary Jen Psaki to move her briefings online amid the rapid spread of Covid-19’s Omicron strain.
“Given the virulence of the spread, medical experts have once again advised that it would be prudent to substantially reduce the number of people working in the cramped, poorly ventilated workspace that we share,”Steve Portnoy, president of the WHCA, sent an email to members.
Per an email that just went out to members, the WHCA is reducing the number of available seats in the WH briefing room to 14 for the next several weeks at least.Last month, I wrote about the growing anxiety around Omicron exposure in the briefing room: https://t.co/uEwVR6BaZSpic.twitter.com/kZsb8qTJHC
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) January 3, 2022
Although Portnoy cited Omicron’s “virulence,” multiple studies have found that the variant is less dangerous than previous strains because it doesn’t appear to attack the lungs as aggressively. The press corps reportedly urged Psaki to hold briefings online rather than in-person, but White House officials told the WHCA that current protocols – including mask-wearing and requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test – are sufficient.
Only reporters from Bloomberg and Reuters, as well as the Associated Press, will now be able regularly to attend White House briefings under the new capacity limit. Other journalists – including those known for being relatively tough on President Joe Biden – will have to wait their turn for rotating seats in the press room.
WHCA members heard from Portnoy, a CBS News reporter, that the board will revisit its decision to reduce attendance by January 21. “case rates and the latest guidance from experts”for information on when White House briefings should be reopened fully.
Last month, Psaki stated to the Washington Post that White House protocol are built on expert opinion. “We don’t think it sends the right message to the country or the world to close the briefing room or pause in-person briefings.”She appeared to nip reporters calling for the online movement of events after there was little attendance at her briefing on December 23. “only the bold and the brave”The meeting was attended by.
The US has set new records for Covid-19 infections in the past week, with Omicron’s rapid spread driving the surge. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House medical advisor said that Omicron is milder than the previous versions and that new infections will start to decrease by the month’s end.