US President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, like millions of Americans, were celebrating Thanksgiving quietly at home on Thursday (Nov 26), as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.
Biden was spending the holiday in the small seaside town of Rehoboth, Delaware, where he and his wife Jill have a vacation home. The Bidens are hosting daughter Ashley Biden and her husband Dr Howard Krein for the holiday meal.
The former vice-president, appearing with his wife Jill in a video message posted to his Twitter account on Thanksgiving, said his family typically holds a large gathering on the island of Nantucket off Massachusetts, but would remain in Delaware this year “with just a small group around our dinner table” because of the pandemic.
In the presidential-style address to a nation that has lost more than 260,000 lives to the coronavirus, Biden said Americans were making a “shared sacrifice for the whole country” and a “statement of common purpose” by staying at home with their immediate families.
“I know this isn’t the way many of us hoped we’d spend our holiday. We know that a small act of staying home is a gift to our fellow Americans,” said Biden, who will be sworn in as President on Jan 20.
“I know better days are coming.”
Republican President Trump often likes to celebrate holidays at his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida, but on Thursday he remained in the Washington area. It was a far cry from last year when he made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where he served turkey to US troops before sitting down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.
In contrast to Biden, who pleaded with Americans to celebrate the holiday safely by wearing masks and socially distancing, Trump in his Thanksgiving proclamation on Wednesday urged Americans to “gather” for the holiday.
“I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,” the President, who recovered from his own case of Covid-19 last month, said in a statement.
Trump has frequently ignored public health warnings and hosted large groups at the White House, with many of his guests refusing to wear masks. In addition to Trump, several other prominent Americans including first lady Melania Trump and members of Congress have tested positive for Covid-19 following such events.
While fewer Americans than normal are expected to travel this year for Thanksgiving, millions still defied pleas from state and local officials and health experts to make their way to family gatherings rather than stay home, despite a spiraling infection rate.
US deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 2,000 in a single day on Tuesday for the first time since May, and hospitalisations reached a record of more than 89,000 on Wednesday.
Biden, who defeated Trump in the Nov 3 election, has been pushing ahead with the transition to his new administration, and has pledged to prioritise getting a grip on the virus. Earlier this week he announced key members of his foreign policy and national security team and has promised to announce more appointments, including his economic team, in coming days.
Despite having yet to concede defeat, Trump has agreed to let Biden’s transition officially proceed, clearing the way, for example, for the Democrat to receive high-level intelligence briefings. But the president continues to make unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, while his legal advisors continue to pursue efforts to overturn the results, with little success.