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It’s Holiday Party Season at the White House. Masks Are Encouraged, but Not Required.


WASHINGTON — The red and gold party invitations make no mention of the coronavirus, nor do they acknowledge the holiday message that public health officials have been trying to emphasize to Americans: Stay home.

Instead, the invitations are the latest example of how President Trump is spending his final weeks in office operating in an alternative universe, denying the realities of life during the pandemic.

“The president and Mrs. Trump request the pleasure of your company at a holiday reception to be held at the White House,” reads the cursive text, displayed under a presidential seal.

Invitations to at least 20 White House parties, the first one on Monday at 7 p.m., 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.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, is also hosting at least one “Christmas celebration” at the Naval Observatory, according to a copy of the invitation, which stipulates a dress code of “cocktail attire” as well as that all guests over 2 years old and all personnel working the event and serving food wear masks.

Social distancing will also be enforced, and guests will have their temperatures checked upon arrival at Mr. Pence’s residence, according to the invitation.

In more than half a dozen interviews on Tuesday, many invitees said they did not plan to attend the gatherings at the White House because of the personal risk required. Others joked that since so many people in the president’s orbit had already tested positive for the virus, the White House had achieved herd immunity and was now a safe space for a quick stop to view the Christmas decorations.

The holiday party season, canceled across most of Washington, will be a rare time when the White House will feel busy.

Inside the West Wing in recent weeks, there has been noticeably less foot traffic in and out of the Oval Office, as staff members pondering their career moves give a president who refuses to concede losing the election some space. Mr. Trump himself has made few public appearances since the election was called for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

As Mr. Trump has retreated from public view, Mr. Biden has tried to step into the void. Last week, for instance, he delivered a raw but optimistic Thanksgiving address in which he pleaded with Americans to stay home for the holidays, telling them it was a patriotic duty to take the proper precautions.

But the holiday season at the White House — complete with a gingerbread house made with 25 pounds of chocolate and 25 pounds of royal icing by the in-house pastry team — is one area where the norm-breaking president appears intent on savoring tradition, even if it means flouting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the holiday events is a party Mr. Trump is hosting on the afternoon of Dec. 11 for West Wing staff members and their families. There are also receptions planned for the evenings of Dec. 14 and Dec. 16, according to guests and copies of invitations.

While the invitations made no mention of any coronavirus safety precautions, Stephanie Grisham, the chief of staff to Melania Trump, the first lady, said the White House was taking some steps to ensure the safety of attendees. Guests would be strongly encouraged to wear masks when they were not eating and the guest lists were smaller than usual, Ms. Grisham said. She did not say how many people were invited to each event.

Other restrictions were being put in place that were not instituted when the president hosted a large crowd for an indoor party at the White House on election night, she added.

“Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations,” Ms. Grisham said in a statement. “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.”

The latest guidance from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington, a Democrat, limits indoor gatherings in the city to 10 people. Beginning Dec. 14, restaurants in Washington are allowed to operate indoors at only 25 percent capacity.

The White House is exempt from the city’s restrictions because it is on federal property.

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