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How this year’s inauguration adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic

Empty chairs on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Biden will propose a broad immigration overhaul on his first day as president, including a shortened pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented migrants - a complete reversal from Donald Trump's immigration restrictions and crackdowns, but one that faces major roadblocks in Congress. Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the biggest challenges facing organizers of this year’s inauguration was how to conduct the ceremony safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced in mid-December that “vigorous health and safety protocols” will be implemented to prevent the spread of the virus. Traditional events will be “reimagined,” like the virtual inaugural parade, or canceled altogether, like the Capitol Hill luncheon.

The inaugural committee also urged the public to refrain from travelling to Washington, DC for the ceremony and instead participate in inaugural activities from home

Here are some additional ways the inauguration changed due to the coronavirus pandemic:

Limited attendance: 

  • In-person attendance will be drastically cut back this year compared to previous inaugurations, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) announced in mid-December.
  • Normally, 200,000 tickets would be distributed for official ceremonies at the US Capitol, but this year attendance will be limited. For example, members of Congress will only receive a ticket for themselves and one guest, and the National Mall will be closed to the public. 

Health and safety protocols: 

  • Inaugural events that are taking place in person will incorporate public health measures to protect participants from the virus.
  • For example, the official swearing-in ceremony will include “vigorous health and safety protocols to protect public health, including face-coverings, social distancing, and more,” according to the inaugural committee’s website.

“Reimagined” or canceled events: 

  • A massive public art display, called the “Field of Flags,” has been set up on the National Mall, with approximately 191,500 U.S. flags and 56 pillars of light to represent Americans who can’t attend the inauguration in person.
  • The traditional inaugural parade will be virtual this year due to the pandemic, the PIC announced. The “reimagined parade” will feature televised performances from communities in all 56 states and territories, as well as celebrity and guest appearances.
  • In lieu of in-person celebrations, the Biden team will produce a 90-minute special program, titled “Celebrating America,” on the evening of his inauguration. Biden and Harris are expected to give remarks during the program, which will also highlight frontline workers, teachers, and health care workers and feature musical performances. 
  • The Capitol Hill luncheon was canceled this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the JCCIC announced in late December, saying the decision was made in consultation with the PIC. In past inaugurations, the luncheon on Capitol Hill traditionally included congressional leaders and invited guests and often featured foods from the home states of the new president and vice president.