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WASHINGTON – The White House is going ahead with plans to hold holiday parties and receptions at the presidential mansion despite a surge in coronavirus cases and warnings from public health officials to avoid large in-person gatherings.
Invitations for the indoor holiday events, which are scheduled to start next week, already have been sent out. An invitation to a Dec. 1 reception – a copy of which was obtained by USA TODAY – makes no mention of mandatory face masks or social distancing requirements.
But Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman and chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump, said Monday that masks will be required and available and that social distancing will be recommended while on the White House grounds.
“The People’s House will celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah while providing the safest environment possible,” Grisham said in a statement released shortly after the first lady welcomed the arrival of the White House Christmas tree aboard a horse-drawn wagon.
Holiday spirit: Melania Trump receives 2020 White House Christmas tree
First lady Melania Trump waves as she stands next to the 2020 Official White House Christmas tree as it is presented on the North Portico of the White House, Nov. 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: DCAH406 (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
This year’s holiday parties will have smaller guests lists, Grisham said, and attendees will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. Beverages will be covered, she said, and all service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines. Hand-sanitizer stations will be located throughout the State Floor.
“Attending the parties will be a very personal choice,” Grisham said. “It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic decor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations.”
The decision to proceed with the indoor parties comes as public health officials have warned Americans to cancel travel plans and avoid large in-person gatherings over Thanksgiving because of COVID-19, which has infected more than 12 million Americans and killed more than 250,000.
The White House has not been immune from the spike. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and several staffers have recently tested positive for the virus. More than a dozen people, including President Donald Trump and the first lady, tested positive for after attending a Rose Garden ceremony in late September in which Trump announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
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“We are at a dire point in our fight with this virus by any measure cases,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Monday during an appearance on “Good Morning America.” “Positivity, hospitalizations, death – we are seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before. I’m asking Americans – and begging you – hold on just a little bit longer. Keep Thanksgiving and the celebrations small and smart this year.”
Trump and the first lady have canceled their plans to spend Thanksgiving at their Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and will remain at the White House instead. But the first holiday reception at the White House is scheduled for just four days later.
Adams dodged questions about the indoor parties at the White House but warned that holiday celebrations can become “super-spreader” events.
Holiday events should be “smart” and “as small as possible,” with ideally no more than 10 people and preferably held outdoors, he said.
“These apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone,” Adams said. “We want you to stay safe so we can get to a vaccine,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, also urged Americans last week to think twice about traveling and holding indoor gatherings for the holidays.
“You’re going to start seeing these unanticipated infections related to innocent home gatherings, particularly as we head into the holiday season,” Fauci said during a meeting with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board.
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