WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to hold indoor holiday receptions in the coming weeks despite ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks and the advice of public health professionals urging Americans to sacrifice their normal holiday gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.

FILE PHOTO: Christmas wreaths decorate the White House in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

U.S. officials have warned against large gatherings on Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, instead urging Americans to stay home and forgo traveling to see relatives in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect vulnerable individuals as cases topped 12 million over the weekend.

While the White House has said President Donald Trump and his wife Melania will remain in Washington this week, skipping their annual Thanksgiving at Trump’s private club in Florida, the first lady plans to hold a holiday reception a few days later on Nov. 30, according to an invitation obtained by ABC News.

That follows a series of White House events in recent months that have been linked to a rash of outbreaks, including Trump’s own bout with the disease from late September into early October. A White House aide and four others have tested positive in recent days.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said the White House would provide the “safest environment possible” for the Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations with smaller guest lists than years past, masks “required and available,” social distancing encouraged and hand sanitizer provided.

“Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. All passed beverages will be covered,” she said in a statement. “Attending the parties will be a very personal choice. It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic decor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations.”

Health professionals within the administration have advised against large indoor gatherings.

“We want everyone to understand that these holiday parties can be super spreader events,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told ABC News in an interview on Monday, urging celebrations to be held outdoors with as few people as possible and pointing to recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone,” Adams said.

Still, it appeared as if many Americans were not heeding the advice. While the number of U.S. air travelers was still down about 60% compared to a year ago, federal transportation officials on Monday reported screening the highest number of passengers since March.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Andrea Shalal, Lisa Lambert and Jeff Mason; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown

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