Melania Trump participates in annual children’s hospital visit

▶ Watch Video: Melania Trump unveils 2020 White House Christmas decorations

First ladies have been visiting Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. during the holidays for decades — and even a global pandemic couldn’t halt the tradition. But Melania Trump’s fourth and final holiday visit as the 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

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. 

Everyone at the event was wearing masks and 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 that 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. 

US-POLITICS-TRUMP-MELANIA First lady Melania Trump reads a Christmas book to children who are patients at Children’s National Hospital on December 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Jacquelyn Martin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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. More than 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. 

Related Categories:

National News

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up