WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Public health officials are sounding alarms and urging Americans not to travel and limit gatherings this holiday season amid a new surge in coronavirus cases.
But that isn’t stopping the White House from planning a host of festivities, including holiday parties, which kicked off Monday with the arrival of the White House Christmas tree.
“Attending the parties will be a very personal choice,” said Stephanie Grisham, First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman and chief of staff. “It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic décor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations.”
The decision to move forward with indoor events and other gatherings comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, top White House advisers and public health professionals across the nation have been pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving or spend the holiday with people from outside of their households.
As the weather has cooled, the virus has been spreading out of control, with cases and hospitalizations surging across the nation and more than 250,000 people dead.
In recent months, several White House events have been linked to a rash of outbreaks, including Trump’s own bout with the coronavirus from late September into early October. Dozens of staff, campaign aids and other advisers have also been infected.
Grisham said the White House would be taking precautions to provide “the safest environment possible” for attendees at events. That includes smaller guest lists, requiring masks, encouraging social distancing on the White House grounds and hand sanitizer stations placed throughout 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,” she said.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Monday repeatedly evaded questions about indoor holiday parties scheduled at the White House while calling other Americans’ indoor gatherings potential “super-spreader” events.
“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus, by any measure: cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths,” he said on on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “So I’m asking Americans — I’m begging you — hold on just a little bit longer. Keep Thanksgiving and the celebrations small and smart this year … do it outdoors if you can, keep it small, ideally less than 10, and prepare beforehand.”
Still, it appeared as if many Americans were not heeding the advice. While the number of U.S. air travelers was still down about 60% compared to a year ago, federal transportation officials on Monday reported screening the highest number of passengers since March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.