Colorado GOP Lawmaker Encourages Thanksgiving Gatherings Despite COVID Rules, Cites Constitution

A Republican state representative has urged Americans not to let warnings from health experts and senior politicians over coronavirus dissuade them from gathering together for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Mark Baisley, who represents the 39th district in the Colorado House of Representatives, wrote to his constituents that they had a "constitutionally guaranteed right" to meet their families over Thanksgiving, effectively urging them to ignore COVID warnings, including from President-elect Joe Biden's team.

"It is important for Americans to realize that, in spite of their good intentions, neither a governor, a president-elect nor I as your state representative have the constitutional authority to restrict the number of family members who gather in your home," he wrote.

"You have a constitutionally guaranteed right of free assembly and association, specifically protected in the first amendment.

"America has been through many other tough times and medical epidemics (smallpox, yellow fever, Spanish flu, cholera, and so forth), and the constitution is not suspended because of a pandemic."

He said the role of government should be simply to "provide an accurate understanding of the virus in order to assist families in making informed decisions in their own self-interests."

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— Mark Baisley’s personal site (@MarkBaisley) November 17, 2020

Baisley's message appeared to contradict health advice from the Centers for Disease Protection and Control (CDC), which has urged Americans to be conscious of the risks of transmission when meeting family and friends.

The CDC has encouraged people to mark the national holiday "virtually" where possible, warning that "small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in Covid-19."

Baisley's intervention represents a growing split between Republicans and Democrats over the importance of respecting COVID rules over Thanksgiving.

Last week, a member of Biden's coronavirus task force urged Americans to avoid traveling over Thanksgiving, saying it would worsen the pandemic.

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden COVID advisory board, described the current situation as like having a "fire blazing."

She told CNBC: "To me traveling and spending time with people over the holidays is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire. It's just not a good idea in the middle of a pandemic, especially at this juncture."

However, Donald Trump's coronavirus advisor, Dr. Scott Atlas, has encouraged Americans to invite older family members to their Thanksgiving celebrations.

"This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly, who are now being told 'don't see your family at Thanksgiving,'" Dr. Atlas, a herd immunity advocate, told Fox News.

"What are we doing here? I think we have to have a policy, which I have been advocating, which is a whole person, whole health policy. It's not about just stopping cases of COVID, we have to talk about damage of the policy itself."

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A man arrives at a Covid-19 test site in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 2020. US states and cities are imposing a raft of new restrictions to try to curb soaring Covid-19 infection rates. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The debate over Thanksgiving comes as COVID restrictions are being tightened across the U.S., amid a sharp uptick in cases in the last three weeks.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week he was pulling the "emergency brake" on plans to loosen restrictions, while New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he "must again pull back the reins."

Texans have been urged to "cancel gatherings, large and small, unless you're with your household" as cases and hospitalizations rise rapidly in the state.

"We're in a war against this virus. This is not the time to lament that we didn't get a gathering this time around," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

And Dr. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, gave a bleak assessment of the impact of meeting over the November 26 holiday: "It's going to happen. You're going to say 'Hi' at Thanksgiving, 'It was so great to see you,' and you're going to either be visiting by FaceTime in the ICU or planning a small funeral before Christmas."