White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows hosted a wedding for his daughter in Atlanta in late May, with about 70 mask-less guests in attendance, despite local officials urging against such gatherings to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a new report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The previously undisclosed event underlines the extent to which the Trump administration has resisted following the basic public health tips intended to avoid infection.
The Meadows family wedding, as reported, also fueled criticism that the president’s team has ignored the guidelines numerous others had to follow.
The contagious and deadly virus, which Donald Trump has downplayed to the public, reached the Oval Office in recent days — infecting both the president and First Lady Melania Trump as well as various senior advisers, campaign staff and others.
Many of those who were sickened around the Trumps all attended events with people in close physical proximity, talking and touching and without masks on.
The president was hospitalized for three days after falling ill late last week, returning to the White House on Monday night.
Meadows, 61, subsequently told reporters he would use personal protective equipment when interacting with the president.
But, according to the AJC, there were no masks at Meadows’ daughter’s wedding in late May and photos the paper obtained “show groups of people clustered closely together in the same room throughout the evening.”
White House aides did not comment to PEOPLE and Meadows did not respond to an email.
The Atlanta paper confirmed the news by reviewing images and other information about the event at the Biltmore Ballrooms, which show the wedding party for Meadows’ daughter had 11 bridesmaids and eight groomsmen, in addition to guests. A three-course meal was served and dancing also took place.
Myrna Antar, the president of Novare Events, which organizes events at the ballroom, slammed media reports about the wedding as political “misrepresentations” that “unnecessarily incite the public.”
Antar tells PEOPLE the wedding in fact met Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s state order because the restrictions limited “10 persons per every 300 sq. feet” and Meadows had booked the entire 16,000-square foot event space for the wedding — “greatly exceeding the per person square footage allowed by the Order,” Antar says.
Meanwhile an executive order by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued the day before the wedding stated that gatherings of 10 or more people were unlawful if individuals could not be six feet apart.
But Antar says Meadows’ wedding party was able to easily social distance at the event.
The photos described by the AJC seem to contradict this point, however.
The optics of it were fuel for critics nonetheless. “Yet more hypocrisy from an administration that boasts about ‘law and order,’ ” a former Obama administration official wrote on social media.
Others sharing the news noted examples of people forced to cancel their weddings earlier this year, amid widespread shutdowns meant to slow the virus that has now killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.
More than 7.5 million people have contracted the virus, including the president.
A senior White House official told PEOPLE this week that staff were taking the outbreak seriously, with some administration officials working from home and those on the White House grounds taking necessary precautions.
A photo shared by a White House television pool report showed staffers enjoying lunch together without masks, while Trump returned to work in the Oval Office on Wednesday. He was seen taking off his mask after returning home on Monday, despite still being infectious and near other people.
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An internal memo obtained by ABC News says that “34 White House staffers and other contacts” have been infected by the virus in recent days.
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The time and place that Trump, 74, became infected with the virus remains unclear, though the president and both members of his campaign and White House staff traveled with him around the country last week. He said he tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday night.
A USA Today investigation into the president’s travels show he and his infected staff members could have potentially exposed thousands of people to the virus, given large events held in states ranging from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, among others.
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