The White House resumes holiday celebrations after the 2021 pandemic break

The White House is once again buzzing with guests, revelers and holiday activities in a sign of how the Biden administration views the state of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden received hundreds of guests at the White House this week for an official state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. Hundreds more guests will be trickling in and out of the White House Christmas celebrations in the coming weeks.

Both state visits and annual holiday gatherings were put on hold last year as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 caused a spike in cases and serious illnesses across the country. The return of both devices signals the White House believes the country is in a much better position to keep cases and deaths at bay this winter.

“I am very hopeful that if people continue to be vaccinated in large numbers, if people are empowered, we can have a very safe and healthy holiday season,” Ashish Jha, director of the White House coronavirus task force, said at a recent press conference.

“But there’s always a caveat here of things outside of left field that you can’t predict…but nothing I’ve seen in the sublines makes me think we can’t push through effectively, especially when people stand up and get their vaccine,” Jha added.

The President and First Lady traveled to North Carolina late last month for a large “Friendsgiving” event with service members and their families. Both Joe and Jill Biden went from table to table chatting with attendees in the large aircraft hangar.

The French state visit on Thursday included a formal dinner with hundreds of guests in a tent on the South Lawn of the White House.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say whether the dinner guests — including lawmakers, administration officials and celebrities — were required to take a test before arriving, just that they were following CDC guidelines.

Biden will host the Kennedy Center honorees on Sunday and attend the awards ceremonies. While he did so last December, he was masked for the main event, which he may not be doing this time.

And in the coming weeks, hundreds of guests will attend the White House Christmas celebrations. There will be separate parties for the media, administration officials and allies of the President, starting with the Convention Ball on Monday. It is expected that at least some of these parties will require a negative test for entry.

Taken together, it paints a very different picture than the White House’s cautious approach last year, when the omicron strain of COVID-19 recently upended many winter plans.

The president argued last winter the country was far better off than it was in 2020, when vaccines were unlicensed and widely available.

Still, there was no major Thanksgiving event or White House Christmas celebrations for lawmakers, media, donors or other guests because of the record numbers of coronavirus infections, which posed a particular threat to the unvaccinated and immunocompromised. In January 2022, infections were so high that the White House Correspondents Association reduced capacity in the briefing room for a month until cases subsided.

This year, experts and White House officials believe the country is in a much better position to prevent a similar outbreak, and the calendar of social events in Washington, DC reflects that.

“The clear message is that it’s time to celebrate the holiday season with some semblance of normalcy,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Center for Global Health Law. “The White House is doing this without rigorous action and precautions. The public will likely take that as a signal that they can celebrate with larger gatherings, without masks and without rigorous testing.”

Gostin acknowledged that the big White House events are likely to spread COVID-19 among some guests, but he said the risk is much lower than a year ago as those who already had the virus are made stronger by vaccines and natural antibodies be immune.

“And so we probably won’t see the same big spikes in hospitalizations and deaths that we had in previous winter seasons, especially during the holiday season,” Gostin said. The White House resumes holiday celebrations after the 2021 pandemic break

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