President Biden canceled his face-to-face meetings with Prime Minister Micheal Martin of Ireland on Thursday after the prime minister received a positive result on a coronavirus test during a gala event in Washington on Wednesday night that both men attended.
Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, confirmed the positive test early Thursday, complicating the prime minister’s plans to spend the day with Mr. Biden for traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Martin instead met virtually on Thursday morning, with Mr. Biden seated near a television monitor showing Mr. Martin, with a bowl of shamrock on a coffee table. The president said he was “deeply sorry for the inconvenience” for the virtual format.
White House officials said that Mr. Biden, who is 79 and has been vaccinated and boosted, was not in close contact with Mr. Martin during Wednesday’s gala, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as being within six feet of someone for at least 15 minutes. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Biden is tested weekly for the coronavirus, and that his last test was on Sunday.
“We, of course, abide by what the recommendations and advice are of his medical doctor,” she said at a press briefing on Thursday. “And if that would be to do increased testing, we would certainly do that. But he does not feel that is necessary at this point in time based on these recent contacts.”
The prime minister’s test result came amid a burst of infections among public officials in Washington in recent days. At least nine Democratic members of Congress tested positive this week after a party retreat and late night voting last week. Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, also tested positive this week, as did former President Barack Obama.
White House officials have downplayed the recent spate of cases, noting that the overall rate in Washington is still extremely low. Ms. Psaki said on Thursday that that the new Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, has been circulating around the country for some time, and the administration was monitoring cases in Europe and in China. New U.S. cases have plummeted from the height of the Omicron surge.
“We expect some fluctuation, especially at this relatively low level,” Ms. Psaki said, adding that the country is in a better position to manage the pandemic.
“It is not gone, and it means we still need to continue to take steps we can to fight the virus,” she said.
About this data
Sources: State and local health agencies (cases, deaths); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
Mr. Mulhall said on Twitter that he had accepted a leadership award for Mr. Martin on Wednesday at the gala for the Ireland Funds in Washington, an event that Mr. Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi also attended.
“I filled in for the Taoiseach after he tested positive for #Covid19,” he wrote, using the Irish word for the country’s leader. “I wish the Taoiseach well for his recovery.”
The speaker’s office confirmed that Ms. Pelosi, who is vaccinated and boosted, had tested negative on a P.C.R. test on Thursday morning, and would continue regular testing and to follow C.D.C. guidelines, though it was not clear which ones. It was unclear whether the Attending Physician’s Office considered Ms. Pelosi, 81, to be a close contact.
Ms. Pelosi, who was photographed sitting next to Mr. Martin during the gala, appeared at her weekly news conference on Thursday, adding that she was tested nearly every day. Mr. Martin remained masked until food was served, she said, and was pulled aside during the appetizer course about his positive test.
“We’re very, very sad that on St. Patrick’s Day, the Taoiseach has this diagnosis,” she said at her indoor news conference, where she removed her mask to speak and take questions. “We won’t be able to have the benefit of the honor of his presence.”
A scheduled lunch — The Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill — proceeded on Thursday, without Mr. Martin present. Ms. Pelosi addressed the room, where lawmakers sat at round tables, while introducing Mr. Biden, who sat on a stool a few feet away. Neither wore a mask, and there were few face coverings in the room.
“America has been blessed by Irish children, and one of those Irish children is now the president of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi said, just before the shook hands and he took the lectern. Mr. Biden spoke, but did not stay for lunch.
Irish journalists traveling with Mr. Martin’s delegation reported that he had attended the early part of the gala, and photos from the event appeared to show him seated next to Ms. Pelosi.
A spokesperson for the Irish government said in a statement on Thursday that the prime minister had tested negative for the virus earlier on Wednesday and also on Sunday, before traveling to the United States.
His second test on Wednesday was administered after a member of the prime minister’s delegation received a positive result on a test, the statement said.
Mr. Mulhall did not elaborate on whether Mr. Martin had symptoms.