Melania Trump continues first lady tradition of visiting children’s hospital during holidays — despite pandemic

First ladies have been visiting Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. during the holidays for decades — and even a global pandemic didn’t halt the tradition. But, Melania Trump’s fourth and final festive visit as first lady on Tuesday looked a little different from past seasons. 

“Every year I cherish my visit to @ChildrensNatl to read a holiday story to the children & meet with the dedicated & inspiring healthcare professionals,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, sharing photos of the event from previous years. “This will be my 4th holiday visit there & I look forward to spending time again with so many brave children & their families.”

The hospital adjusted the event program to help ensure the visit was as safe as possible amid the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. 

Every year I cherish my visit to @ChildrensNatl to read a holiday story to the children & meet with the dedicated & inspiring healthcare professionals. This will be my 4th holiday visit there & I look forward to spending time again with so many brave children & their families.

Trump still sat in a chair in front of a massive, lavishly decorated Christmas tree in the facility’s atrium to do her annual reading, but the crowd was much smaller than in years past. Instead of reading to a large group of patients and their families, hospital staff and performers, Trump was seen in a Facebook Live video posted by the hospital walking out to the tree in front of just a handful of people.

Two patients, 6-year-old Riley Whitney and 8-year-old Sofia Martinez, sat in front of the first lady on a red carpet during her reading, AP reports.

“It is wonderful to be here. This is one of my favorite events during the holiday time,” Trump said before reading the children’s story “Oliver the Ornament Meets Marley & Joan and Abbey” by Todd Zimmerman. The tale is part of the holiday “Oliver the Ornament” series of books, which Trump said she started reading three years ago.

She also urged the children to “stay strong and well” before kicking off the story. 

We’re continuing our annual holiday tradition with First Lady Melania Trump. The tradition of First Lady visits to Children’s National Hospital dates back to more than 70 years. #HolidaysAtChildrens

Everyone at the event was wearing masks, as well as practicing social distancing, a hospital spokesperson told CBS News via email. The space was closed to hospital visitors, they added. 

The video showed the first lady removing her face covering to read the book, prompting concerns the she had violated the hospital’s guidelines.

“All staff, families/caregivers and visitors must wear a mask at all times while in any Children’s National facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the website states. 

The hospital spokesperson told CBS News that the hospital’s website “does not include the mask policy for people who come to the hospital to give a speech.” 

“The First Lady did follow our mask protocols for public speakers, which is based on DC Health guidance, which states that wearing a mask is not required when a person is giving a speech for broadcast or an audience, provided no one is within six feet of the speaker,” the spokesperson added.

The hospital said when Trump removed her mask for the reading she was “more than twelve feet away from others in our four-story atrium.” The spokesperson confirmed the first lady wore a mask for the rest of her visit, adding that she did not visit any patient care areas. 

The reading was broadcast over the hospital’s closed-circuit TV system so patients could listen in from their rooms, AP reports. After the reading, Trump took part in calling out numbers during a Bingo game. The game is played twice weekly to give the kids a mental respite from their conditions, according to AP.

“Mrs. Trump has our deep gratitude for joining every first lady since Bess Truman in bringing holiday cheer to children who are hospitalized and can’t be home during this special time of the year,” Dr. Kurt Newman, chief executive officer of the hospital, said, according to the AP. 

The visit comes as the coronavirus continues to rage across the nation. Over 300,000 Americans have now died due to the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The country passed the grim milestone as the first Americans began receiving Pfizer’s newly authorized coronavirus vaccine. 

The first lady has been busy preparing for the holidays, revealing the 2020 White House Christmas decorations and theme: “America the Beautiful” late last month. The unveiling occurred less than two months after secret recordings from June 2018 were aired by CNN, in which she lamented about preparing for the holidays at the White House. 

CBS News has not independently verified the recordings. 

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