By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The Trump White House on Wednesday tried to make Thanksgiving a new political flashpoint, calling new restrictions recommended by health experts and governors “Orwellian.”
As COVID-19 spikes dramatically across the country and Americans struggle to decide how many family members should gather, or whether to do so at all, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said leaving it to individuals how to deal with the virus was “the American way.”
McEnany made the comments when asked on Fox and Friends about “suggestions and guidelines” from experts, governors and even top administration officials that people not gather in large groups for the holiday.
“A lot of the guidelines you’re seeing are Orwellian,” said McEnany, who contracted COVID-19 in October as part of a larger outbreak at the White House. “We don’t lose our freedom in this country. We make responsible health decisions as individuals.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert infectious disease expert, told USA Today Wednesday that Americans should “think twice” about traveling for the holidays and joining for “seemingly innocent” gatherings that could very well turn out to hotspots for the virus to spread — including to elderly relatives.
And Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in Wednesday’s briefing on the federal government’s vaccine efforts, warned of much the same, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people you live with virtual celebrating gathering indoors with people who aren’t members of your household is a higher risk activity for spreading the virus,” Azar said.
Fauci and other experts have recommended family members even wear masks indoors when not eating.
As the U.S. enters another devastating wave of cases, likely to spike after next week’s traditional holiday gatherings, McEnany maintained Americans have dealt with COVID-19 for “many months” and already know how to protect themselves.
“It’s Orwellian in a place like Oregon to say if you gather in numbers more than six we might come to your house and arrest you and you get 30 days of jail time. That’s not the American way,” McEnany said.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, implemented a new wave of restrictions Tuesday that “freeze” public life in the state which she said is at its “breaking point.” Her executive order limits the size of social gatherings to no more than six people and those in violation can be subject to misdemeanors punishable by citation or arrest, Brown said.
Washington State and Michigan, also with Democratic governors, have imposed similar mandates, but as cases climb alarmingly even GOP governors such as Iowa’s Kay Reynolds have ordered new mask mandates.
When the Fox hosts reminded her the White House had said it was up to the governors to decide what to do, McEnany at first agreed before saying it’s a matter of “freedom.”
“Yeah of course, it’s up to every state to do what they wanted to do, but there are consequences for those states,” she said. “The American people are a freedom-loving people.”
“We can make good decisions, we can wash our hands, wear masks, socially distance, but we can also decide in our own personal domicile, our own home, whether we can have our family members present at any given time. That is the American way, that is freedom,” she added.
President-elect Joe Biden has taken the opposite approach.
Speaking at a roundtable with frontline health care workers Wednesday about how COVID-19 was affecting his own holiday plans, Biden said his guest list had been slashed.
“The docs that have been advising me all along are telling me — and it caused problems in my family — Thanksgiving’s coming up. Well, they said, ‘Joe, maximum 10 people in your home, maximum, Joe,'” Biden said. “There’s going to be three of us because you can’t mix the families that have been away, that hadn’t been quarantined.”
On Monday, Biden said, “I just want to make sure we’re able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas.”
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