Democratic House leadership changed course after plans to host an indoor dinner for newly elected members of Congress were met with public outcry.
Images of the dining room where House Democratic and Republican leaders were planning their respective orientation dinners quickly drew criticism when they were posted online on Friday. Pundits and politicians alike decried the event as a bad look and a public health hazard, given the increase in coronavirus infections and deaths across the country this week.
Following a week of coronavirus-related records, on Friday, there were nearly 185,000 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the country’s death toll from the virus reached 244,332, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Hours after the images went viral, Democrats “modified” their plans, instead having new members pick up to-go meals, “to be a further model for the nation,” said Drew Hamill, spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Hamill added that there was “no group dinner” and new Democratic representatives left the Capitol after picking up their food.
Pelosi had initially told NBC News that the indoor dining plan was safe, noting the dining room was “very spaced,” had enhanced ventilation and that the Capitol physician had approved it.
Republican leadership also reportedly planned an orientation dinner, but it wasn’t clear whether those plans moved forward. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office didn’t immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
A Stanford study released this week found that indoor dining is one of the riskiest activities when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Pelosi and McCarthy’s home state of California surpassed more than 1 million COVID-19 cases this week, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an advisory Friday urging people not to travel out of the state unless it was essential, and to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning from another state.
This week, newly elected members of Congress traveled from their home states to Washington, D.C., for freshman orientation.
One new member, Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.), a QAnon supporter, complained on Twitter that the first orientation session about coronavirus focused on “masks, masks, masks.”
“I proudly told my freshman class that masks are oppressive,” Greene tweeted. “In GA, we work out, shop, go to restaurants, go to work, and school without masks. My body, my choice.”
Georgia has recorded nearly 420,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 8,900 deaths related to it.