Speed Reads

Luck of the Irish?

Biden meets virtually with nearby Irish leader on St. Patrick's Day, after latest brush with COVID

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Biden and other U.S. officials on St. Patrick's Day, but he learned at a Wednesday evening dinner that he tested positive for COVID-19. So on Thursday, even though he was across the street from the White House at Blair House, Martin met with Biden virtually from the Oval Office. 

"I'm really deeply sorry for the inconvenience that we have to meet virtually this year," Biden told Martin. And he really was, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Biden "is an extrovert, extrovert, extrovert," and "was looking forward to having the meeting today," she said. Biden, who is Irish-American, attended the rest of the scheduled St. Patrick's Day festivities on Thursday, but Martin did not.

Biden, 79, and Martin both attended Wednesday evening's Ireland Funds gala, and Biden joked in Thursday's virtual meeting that he was glad he got to see the Irish leader in person "for seven and a half minutes." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, sat next to Martin at the gala, until he was notified of his positive test during the appetizer course, and she also attended Thursday's Friends of Ireland Luncheon with Biden. Pelosi said she tested negative Thursday morning. All three leaders are vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

White House officials said Biden "had not been in close contact with anyone who tested positive and did not appear worried about his safety," The New York Times reports. But "in the past week, Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, tested positive for the virus, as did former President Barack Obama" and "at least nine House Democrats."

This "flurry of high-profile coronavirus cases in the nation's capital — including in people who have been around President Biden — has raised new questions about the trajectory of the two-year-old pandemic," the Times reports. White House officials said they are monitoring the highly transmissible BA.2 subvarient and "there appeared to be little reason to think there would be a U-turn back to social distancing and universal mask wearing in the United States."