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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, after intense scrutiny over respective sit-down dinners for incoming Democratic and Republican House members during their orientation week, changed the meal to take-away boxed dinners.

In a press conference this morning, Pelosi reiterated the threat of COVID-19 as a “red alert” and an “emergency of the highest magnitude.”

Initially, the dinner, following orientation week activities for House freshmen, was planned to be seated and in-person dinner. When asked about the dinner by NBC News, Pelosi responded that “it’s very spaced.” 

Speaking with NBC News on Capitol Hill earlier, Pelosi said, “we have all the permission and the ventilation from the doctor.”

Critics and journalists on Twitter were quick to point out that the dinner was being held despite the “red alert” designation, as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, and Americans are being asked to rethink holiday gatherings.

How can the Speaker call COVID a “red alert” and an “emergency of the highest magnitude” in the morning and then host a dinner like this? Does anyone trust the ventilation system of a 200 year old building?

— Alan He (@alanhe) November 13, 2020

Late Friday evening, after a day of criticism, Pelosi’s office announced a shift to the event.

Shortly before the dinner, Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s chief of staff, tweeted a statement that read: “Our office strictly follows the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, including for this dinner. To be a further model for the nation, this event has been modified to allow Members-elect to pick up their meals to go in a socially-distanced manner.”

An hour later, Hammill tweeted, “Members-elect are now picking up their boxed meals and departing the Capitol. There is no group dinner. Members-elect are in DC already for orientation.” 

Read more: ‘Make plans for a different kind of Thanksgiving’: New Mexico shutting down all non-essential business amid record-shattering surge in COVID-19

At least two states imposed new lockdown restrictions today and several states added travel advisories ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Congresswoman-elect Ashley Henson, a Republican from Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, was unable to attend the orientation this week as she tested positive for COVID-19.

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