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Dr. Natalie E. Azar Trump White House's Covid Christmas parties underscore a dangerous pandemic disconnect

The messaging from the very top of the White House has been inconsistent, if not contradictory, to the messaging from the White House's own task force. And Americans are watching.
Image: Melania Trump
Melania Trump stands in front of the White House Christmas tree at the North Portico of the White House on Nov. 23, 2020.Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

For many Americans, the transition from the summer months to winter is full of trade-offs: sun with snow, beaches for backpacks. But the negatives are softened by the annual holiday trifecta: Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November and then a monthlong celebration in December leading up to New Year’s. But amid the growing crisis of Covid-19, the 2020 holiday season is different.

As Americans around the nation are being told in no uncertain terms to sacrifice cherished time with loved ones for the sake of public health, the head of the government is, still, doing the opposite.

Absent an available, safe and effective vaccine, stopping the deadly spread of the coronavirus requires personal responsibility. Wearing a mask, watching your distance, washing your hands and avoiding indoor gatherings is the mantra, repeated over and over again by public health officials, health care workers, journalists and the White House coronavirus task force.

Yet, the message has not sunk in. As Americans around the nation are being told in no uncertain terms to stay home, avoid crowds and even sacrifice cherished time with their loved ones for the sake of public health, the head of the government is still doing the opposite. Nowhere is this dangerous disconnect more apparent than in the White House’s holiday party schedule, which is chock-full of events this December expected to draw hundreds of people together in the nation’s capital.

These parties could well become superspreader events, as we’ve seen with other White House gatherings. They can’t say they weren’t warned.

In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated, more urgent guidance, imploring individuals to forgo Thanksgiving travel altogether. Public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sounded the alarm. During an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Fauci stated that “people at airports” who ignore federal guidance to avoid travel “are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now.”

Following the holiday, in an interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press," Fauci doubled down. Public health officials "tried to get the word out for people, as difficult as it is, to really not have large gatherings," he said.

Other members of the White House coronavirus task force like Dr. Brett Giroir and Dr. Deborah Birx have been equally outspoken about their concerns around holiday travel and gatherings.

In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Giroir stopped short of formally recommending a 14-day quarantine for those returning from Thanksgiving travel — but he did make the recommendation to decrease unnecessary activities for the first week after returning.

Birx, on CBS' "Face the Nation," said families who gathered for Thanksgiving should not only get tested for the virus 5 to 10 days after traveling, but also that "you need to assume that you're infected and not go near your grandparents and aunts and others without a mask."

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, echoing his task force colleagues, said those who gathered for Thanksgiving should isolate and get tested. "For those who did travel and those who did attend large gatherings, we want you to know it's not too late to take measures to slow the spread of this virus," Adams said in an interview with "Fox News Sunday."

But one voice has been conspicuously absent from all of the holiday warnings: the president himself. In fact, time and again, the messaging from the very top of the White House has been inconsistent, if not downright contradictory, to the messaging from nearly every member of the president’s own task force.

President Donald Trump misled Americans about the reason positive cases were increasing; he repeatedly and publicly downplayed the Covid-19 threat as well as the importance of wearing masks. Over and over, the president’s words and actions have been at odds with those of his health experts. Trump may be leaving the White House in January, but America will be dealing with this virus for many more months, with a “very dark winter” ahead of us.

This leads us back to the White House’s holiday agenda: as many as 20 indoor parties. In a nod to the danger, Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said gatherings will be smaller than in years past, require masks and encourage social distancing. And yet, photos from a recent gathering paint a very concerning picture. The fear that these parties could present another superspreader opportunity is very real, as recent history shows. But this isn’t just about the health and safety of the parties’ attendees: It’s also about the message being sent.

Every American wants this pandemic to be over. Children need to be in school, the economy desperately needs to recover and the health and welfare of U.S. citizens need to be prioritized. Many Americans have made endless sacrifices for their own benefit as well as for their families, friends and communities. Grandparents haven’t seen their grandchildren, weddings have been postponed, jobs have been lost, families have been evicted and hundreds of thousands of families’ lives have been forever altered. And that just skims the surface of the devastation.

Trump’s White House, meanwhile, is willfully disregarding public health guidance. Will this be the last image Americans have of their chief executive? You have a chance to lead by example here, Mr. President. Americans are watching.