The White House is moving forward with annual holiday parties despite the coronavirus pandemic, with the gatherings beginning in earnest this week.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, said that the White House is providing the “safest environment possible” by reducing guest lists, requiring masks, encouraging physical distancing and making hand sanitizer readily available on the State Floor.
“Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. All passed beverages will be covered. All service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines,” Grisham said. “Attending the parties will be a very personal choice. It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic decor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations.”
The events are kicking off after the first lady unveiled the White House Christmas decorations on Monday. The Washington Post reported that the events are expected to number over a dozen and include more than 50 people.
Coronavirus cases are surging across the country and public health officials have urged Americans to avoid gathering in large groups during the holiday season in order to prevent the further spread of the virus. More than 13.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and more than a quarter million have died from the virus.
Last month, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned against large indoor holiday celebrations when asked about the White House’s plans to hold parties.
“We want everyone to understand that these holiday celebrations can be super-spreader events, so we want them to be smart and we want them to be as small as possible,” Adams said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” urging the public to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. “These apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone.”
The White House’s parties are held each year to mark the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah and some feature appearances by the president and first lady. The guest lists often include influential conservatives, Republican lawmakers and White House staffers.