Donald Trump is continuing to host crowds of people inside the White House for Christmas parties, even as the coronavirus pandemic rages out of control and health experts plead with people to avoid large gatherings.
The president has been largely silent on the virus ravaging the US, which on Thursday killed more people than died at Pearl Harbor.
Mr Trump’s social media posts have overwhelmingly focused on challenging the results of the 3 November election, with scant attention paid to the public health catastrophe around him.
Even as government officials issue increasingly dire coronavirus warnings, he has remained silent.
The White House coronavirus task force sent a report, dated Sunday, to states sounding the alarm on several fronts, including that “a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise Covid patient care, as well as medical care overall” as hospitals are overwhelmed.
The report also said that state responses “remain inadequate” in “many areas” and called for measures like limiting or closing indoor dining, which many states have not done.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield warned on Wednesday that December, January and February are “going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation”.
Asked on Wednesday where the president’s “public leadership” on the virus surge has been, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that his work “speaks for itself”.
“He gave a press conference about two weeks ago, I believe, on the vaccine, which he has done at warp speed because he's torn down bureaucratic barriers," she said.
“He's been hard at work. He's done I don't know how many coronavirus task force briefings from this podium. But the work he's done speaks for itself.”
The Trumps began hosting holiday receptions this week, intent on celebrating a final season before Mr Trump leaves office on 20 January.
Social media posts from those attending show large crowds of often maskless attendees gathered indoors — violating the very public health guidance the US government has pressed the nation to follow this holiday season as cases of Covid-19 skyrocket across the country.
On Thursday, the US reported 2,857 deaths from Covid-19 — more than died in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
There were 216,548 new cases confirmed.
“My message couldn’t be simpler: It’s time to hunker down,” said Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles said. “It’s time to cancel everything. And if it isn’t essential, don’t do it.”
In Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, the mayor, has limited indoor gatherings in the city to 10 people.
From 14 December, restaurants in Washington are allowed to operate indoors at only 25 per cent capacity.
The White House is exempt from the city’s restrictions because it is on federal property.
Invitations to at least 20 White House parties, beginning on Monday, have been sent out so far, according to administration officials. The guest lists include current and former officials and allies, some from out of state; Republican National Committee officials; campaign staff members; and some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Stephanie Grisham, the First Lady’s chief of staff, said that precautions were being taken.
"Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations,” she said. "All passed beverages will be covered. All service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines.
"Attending the parties will be a very personal choice. It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic décor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations."
Among the holiday events is a party that Mr Trump is hosting on the afternoon of 11 December for West Wing staff members and their families. There are also receptions planned for the evenings of 14 December and 16 December, according to guests and copies of invitations.
On Tuesday evening a Christmas party was held, attended by Pam Pollard, a former Oklahoma Republican Party chair.
She posted a video on Facebook showing a tightly-packed, maskless crowd, and a person coughing loudly as one woman yells “we love you!” as Mr Trump descended the staircase.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, on Wednesday defended the Trumps’ decision to host the parties.
She said that the guest lists are smaller than past years, hand sanitizer is made available to guests and social distancing is encouraged.
“So you know if you can loot businesses, burn down buildings, engage in protest, you can also go to a Christmas party,” said Ms McEnany.