The White House is struggling to offer a clear message on how Americans should approach Thanksgiving as coronavirus cases surge around the country and experts worry holiday gatherings could produce yet another spike in infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance on best practices for holding Thanksgiving gatherings, and the agency followed that up on Thursday by advising against traveling for the holiday.
But the White House has done little to elevate the recommendations from the country’s top public health agency, while some administration officials have outright contradicted the CDC’s advice.
“The CDC has excellent guidance on how to approach Thanksgiving. But putting out excellent guidance on the web without being able to hold a press conference and lift that up and have it be amplified by political leadership means it’s not going to have the impact that it should,” said Richard Besser, who led the agency in 2009.
“I’m hearing a lot of governors … telling people this is a year where you should think about a Zoom Thanksgiving,” Besser continued. “Governors are stepping up and doing that, but it would have much more impact if it were coming from the White House,” Besser added.
The White House coronavirus task force on Thursday held its first briefing in four months, but at no point did Vice President Pence or any of the health experts specifically talk about the upcoming holiday or whether it was safe to gather with family and friends.
Instead, Pence focused on promising vaccine developments while acknowledging cases were on the rise. Health experts such as Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci says Santa Claus won’t be spreading coronavirus due to ‘innate immunity’ Bill Gates: ‘I feel very confident’ COVID-19 vaccine is safe Fauci gets frustrated: ‘Get rid of these ridiculous conspiracy theories’ MORE and Deborah BirxDeborah BirxThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC – Pence, Biden wage tug of war over pandemic plans Fauci, Birx urge Americans to take precautions against virus in rare White House appearance Trump COVID-19 outreach to governors drops off MORE urged Americans to redouble their efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus by wearing masks and avoiding crowds.
Task force members declined to take questions from reporters at the briefing held in the White House press room.
Birx, in a subsequent interview with CNN, reiterated CDC guidance by encouraging the public to keep Thanksgiving gatherings to those in their immediate household.
The CDC issued guidance last week on celebrating Thanksgiving that encourages Americans to avoid holding gatherings with people who do not live in their household in order to minimize the risks of spreading the coronavirus. If extended family or friends do attend, the CDC advises that people wear masks and maintain a distance of at least six feet.
The agency on Thursday offered updated guidance that warned against traveling for Thanksgiving this year, citing the increased risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
While saying little about the CDC guidelines, some White House officials have instead undermined public health guidance and advisories from individual states, further muddying the message at a perilous time in the pandemic.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany criticized Oregon and New York for warning residents of potential consequences should they violate limits on gatherings during Thanksgiving, even as she acknowledged that “it’s up to every state to do what they want to do.”
“I think a lot of the guidelines you’re seeing are Orwellian,” McEnany said Wednesday on Fox News, a remark she stood by two days later when asked at a rare press briefing whether she was confusing the public by contradicting state guidelines.
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