Anthony Fauci

Fauci Attended a White House Correspondents' Dinner Pre-Party

The good doctor's "individual assessment of my personal risk" apparently lets him attend brunch but not dinner.

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When celebrities, top political leaders, and media elites gathered on Saturday night for the first White House Correspondents' Dinner in three years, Anthony Fauci was not among them. The government's top COVID-19 adviser had opted not to attend, citing "my individual assessment of my personal risk" of contracting the disease.

But while Fauci did not attend the dinner itself, he was photographed at a pre-party: an indoor and outdoor Saturday brunch.

Fauci is certainly free to make whatever decision he thinks is best for him: In the post-vaccination landscape, as COVID-19 becomes a milder and milder illness for the overwhelming majority of healthy, vaccinated people who catch it, risk assessment absolutely rests with the individual. Much of the public frustration with Fauci and government health officials like him is that for far too long, they insisted risk assessment be calculated by federal health bureaucrats. Disastrously, these bureaucrats were often far less willing than the general public to countenance any risk whatsoever.  They also evinced misplaced priorities: Mask requirements for school children remained in place even as governments relaxed most other restrictions, despite COVID-19 posing less risk to kids and teenagers than any other cohort.

The U.S. is now moving swiftly away from this norm—the norm of needing permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and letting people work out for themselves how they feel about the risk of catching COVID-19, as if it were any other illness. That's a relief, and any effort to go back to the old norm should be met with maximal resistance.

All that said, Fauci's personal risk assessment is not beyond criticism, given that he clearly sees himself as a model of good public health behavior and has remained a steadfast scold about holiday parties and other events. Skipping the White House Correspondents' Dinner is well in keeping with his stated coronavirus caution, but was the brunch all that much safer? The brunch was partly outdoors, but there were indoor components as well. Moreover, most attendants were in close proximity and unmasked—Fauci included.

Fauci also attended the annual Gridiron Dinner less than a month ago, which turned out to be a superspreader event, though Fauci evidently avoided the virus. Again, he is welcome to follow inconsistent or unclear standards, but given that he was the paramount standards setter for all Americans from March 2019 until just a few weeks ago, one should be forgiven for subjecting his assessment to scrutiny.

If you're hobnobbing with a large number of social people, you run some risk of catching COVID-19. That's as true for brunch as it is for dinner.