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Donald Trump has drawn withering criticism for continuing to host Christmas parties at the White House even as America’s daily death toll from the coronavirus hit a record 3,000.
Despite public health guidelines warning against indoor gatherings, the White House has pressed ahead with as many as two dozen of its traditional holiday events.
On Wednesday night, Trump hosted about 200 guests for the annual Hanukah celebration. Photos and videos posted on social media showed most attendees wearing masks but crowding tightly together to witness brief remarks by a maskless president.
Earlier that day, Chris Ruddy, a conservative media executive and friend of Trump, said: “I’ll certainly wear a mask going to the party. I’m not sure I’m gonna wear one as I’m eating and drinking and walking around.”
On Thursday night, Trump again hosted scores of guests for the annual congressional ball – branded the “Covid ball” by darkly humorous critics.
The White House parties allow guests to wander through ceremonial rooms, admire Christmas trees and other elaborate decorations and enjoy copious amounts of food and drink.
When asked this week about whether such activities were responsible in the middle of a worsening pandemic, Trump insisted that the events could be held safely.
A reporter challenged the president: “Across the street, you’ve been holding holiday parties with hundreds of people, many not wearing masks. Why are you modeling a different behavior to the American people than what your scientists tell?”
Trump replied: “Well, they’re Christmas parties, and frankly, we’ve reduced the number very substantially, as you know. And I see a lot of people at the parties wearing masks. I mean, I would say that I look out at the audience at those parties, and we have a lot of people wearing masks, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Guests at the events have included Alex Azar, the health secretary, a key figure in the government’s pandemic response. He told CNN that he “felt comfortable” and “safe”, stating: “Most of the individuals around me were wearing masks. We worked to keep distance.”
The president and more than 50 people in his circle have been infected with the coronavirus, including Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, lawyers who have been travelling to numerous public gatherings in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the presidential election.
Ellis attended a Christmas party at the White House last Friday and was reportedly not wearing a mask while mingling with other guests.
Susan Glasser, a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine, wrote: “Welcome to late-stage Trumpism: defiant decadence with a potentially deadly edge.”
The revels at the White House pose a particular headache for local government officials in Washington, where the average case rate is setting daily records. They have repeatedly called for residents to avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings this year.
Mayor Muriel Bowser last month increased the city’s virus restrictions, limiting the size of indoor gatherings to 10 people. But the White House and other federal properties are not obliged to comply with those rules.
At least one White House event, a Rose Garden ceremony for the supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in September, was later labeled a super-spreader after multiple attendees tested positive.
The state department, led by the Trump ally Mike Pompeo, has also scheduled a series of indoor holiday gatherings. It claimed that all events followed local guidance and the department’s own “Diplomacy Strong” virus protocols, including a mask requirement for all attendees and temperature checks at the entrances.
The first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine are expected to begin distribution in the US as early as next week, with the first batch reserved for healthcare professionals and first responders. But experts warn that, before a vaccine can be widely distributed, the worst is yet to come. On Wednesday the US set a new record for single-day deaths from coronavirus, with 3,054.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “We are in the timeframe now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Trump under fire for hosting Christmas parties as Covid deaths mount | US news