US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned Monday that all Americans – even at the White House – should follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and avoid large gatherings during what he called a “dire point” in the pandemic.
Adams was asked during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” how the White House can justify hosting holiday parties as the CDC is advising Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving and warning against indoor gatherings.
Invitations for White House holiday parties have started to arrive on Capitol Hill and to Republican donors, two people who have received them said. The sources said the invitations seemed like any other year, with no mention of coronavirus precautions. And last week, first lady Melania Trump finalized guest lists for parties with friends, family and staff, which will be held over multiple evenings in mid-December.
The parties are yet another example of those in the White House shirking the administration’s own best practices, which has led to multiple outbreaks over the past few months and concerns it could happen again.
The first lady’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham said Monday there will be safety precautions, including smaller guest lists and mask requirements, at the indoor events.
“The People’s House will celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah while providing the safest environment possible. This includes smaller guest lists, masks will be required and available, social distancing encouraged while on the White House grounds, and hand sanitizer stations throughout the State Floor,” Grisham said in a statement.
She added, “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.”
But, Grisham said, it will be up to invitees to decide whether to attend.
“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,” she said.
A source familiar told CNN that there will not be individual pictures with Trump and the first lady, as there have been in years past, due to the coronavirus precautions. There will be more than one US Secret Service holiday party to accommodate the number of guests, as is traditionally the procedure. The parties are expected to take place the first week of December.
Adams, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, declined to condemn the parties, instead speaking more broadly about large gatherings.
“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. We’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before,” he said, going on to tout positive news in vaccine development.
He continued, “I’m asking Americans – and begging you – hold on just a little bit longer. Keep Thanksgiving and the celebration small and smart this year.”
Pressed again on whether he was concerned White House holiday parties could become super spreader events, Adams said, “Well, 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. But again, go to cdc.gov. Look at those tips for everyone. These apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone. We want you to stay safe, so we can get to a vaccine.”
Meanwhile, at the White House, preparations for the season are well underway, with the first lady welcoming the official Christmas tree to the White House via the longstanding horse-drawn carriage custom Monday afternoon and preparing to soon unveil her holiday decorations.
Traditionally, dozens of volunteers from across the country spend several days at the White House after Thanksgiving, decking the halls and putting finishing touches on the extensive holiday decorating that must take place across several public spaces and rooms.
Melania Trump, as she has done the last three years, started planning her “design theme” in late summer for the holidays. This year, however, the number of volunteers selected to adorn the White House was dramatically scaled back due to Covid-19 guidelines, as will be the tour groups who come to see it.
She has previously lamented the lengthy annual process, telling friend and former adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in secretly-recorded tapes, “I’m working … my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?”
When volunteers do arrive to begin the work of installing ornaments, wall décor, lights and garlands, they will wear masks and remain socially distant, per White House rules outlined in the volunteer application form. Touring guests will also be required to wear face coverings and be socially distant.
And despite the worsening state of the pandemic and President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept election results, he will make a now-rare public appearance on Tuesday in the Rose Garden when he participates in the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon.
CORRECTION: The headline on this story has been corrected to specify that Adams was referring to large holiday gatherings.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.