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White House brushes off COVID-19 concerns surrounding holiday parties

White House brushes off COVID-19 concerns surrounding holiday parties
© White House

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday shrugged off concerns about holding in-person holiday parties as the nation is riven by a surge in coronavirus cases and public health agencies urge Americans to forgo such gatherings.

"If you can loot businesses, burn down buildings, engage in protest, you can also go to a Christmas party," McEnany said at a White House briefing.

"You can celebrate the holiday of Christmas, and you can do it responsibly," she added.

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The Washington Post reported that the White House is planning at least 25 separate holiday parties over the coming weeks, each of which will include more than 50 guests. The White House has already been the site of multiple coronavirus outbreaks that infected President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE, McEnany and other top aides.

McEnany on Wednesday defended the gatherings, noting the East Wing has opted for smaller guest lists and will make masks available. But she was definitive that the pandemic would not put a pause to the annual celebrations, which typically draw hundreds of people to the building.

"We will engage in the celebration of Christmas, and there will be a Hanukkah celebration as well," she said.

McEnany's comments come as the government's top public health officials warn of the dangers of gatherings over the coming months and states face increasing positivity rates, decreasing hospital capacity and mounting deaths.

"The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said Wednesday during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. "I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

The CDC is also urging Americans to avoid travel during the holiday season to further limit potential spread of the coronavirus.

At least 270,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S., including nearly 2,600 on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll of the pandemic so far.

The White House coronavirus task force wrote in its weekly report to states that a further surge in cases following Thanksgiving threatens to overwhelm the health care system and compromise patient care.