WASHINGTON – Multiple people who attended midterm strategy meetings in South Carolina hosted by a subgroup of the Democratic National Committee have tested positive for COVID-19.
Between 5% and 10% of the nearly 300 attendees were infected, BuzzFeed News has learned from two people briefed on the matter.
The events, hosted by the Association of the State Democratic Committee (ASDC) and DNC leadership, ran from Tuesday, Dec. 14, through Saturday, Dec. 18, in Charleston and included a mix of training sessions, meetings, and at least one reception. Attendance varied from 20 people to at times more than 100 and included state and national party leaders.
The news comes as swaths of the nation are seeing a surge of new COVID cases — as well as long lines for tests and rolling shutdowns of businesses — as the highly contagious Omicron variant sweeps across the country. Even the White House announced that President Joe Biden had a COVID scare — he was in close contact with a mid-level staffer who tested positive after being near the president for 30 minutes during a flight back from an unrelated South Carolina event on Air Force One last Friday. Biden has since tested negative.
The events in South Carolina included several days of ASDC sessions and a meeting hosted by the DNC executive committee on Saturday. When officials were made aware that two vendors who had been in attendance later tested positive, the DNC offered everyone PCR tests, Trav Robertson, the South Carolina Democratic Party chair, told BuzzFeed News in an interview Tuesday.
On Dec. 17, DNC chair Jaime Harrison spoke at an ASDC event but stood at least six feet away at a podium and remained fully masked in front of a crowd of about 70 people, a DNC spokesperson said, who added that Harrison has since tested negative.
Jason Rae, the secretary of the DNC, tested negative while at home in Milwaukee, flew to South Carolina on Dec. 16, but then tested positive on Friday, Dec. 17. On Saturday, he dialed into a smaller event where nearly two-thirds of the attendees were participating virtually. He then rented a car and drove home to Milwaukee rather than flying, according to a DNC spokesperson.
The DNC and ASDC maintain that proper protocols were required ahead of and during the week of events.
“I think, quite frankly, everybody did everything correctly,” Robertson said. “The guests were required to be fully vaccinated, wear masks indoors, and events were held outdoors when possible.”
Robertson also said attendees were required to sign a document stating they were vaccinated before attending, adding that there were vaccine checkpoints and that desks and tables were socially distanced.
“The guidelines that were set for this meeting are much stricter than the guidelines that the Republican governor set for the state of South Carolina,” Robertson said.
A DNC spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they “sent a very small number of staff” to help support the ASDC and added that those staff members were “fully vaccinated, wore masks indoors, and met with various state chairs and executive directors in outdoor settings.” The spokesperson added that “DNC staff was not involved in the agenda or programming of the ASDC meeting beyond those meetings and a handful of presentations.”