Pandemic, Security to Shape Biden Inauguration

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January 19, 2021

The inauguration ceremony for Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice-president will take place at the usual time and at the usual place: about noon on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Many other elements of what has become a tradition-filled ceremony will be different this year, however, for two main reasons.

Joe Biden speaking

The first is that Biden will assume the presidency in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has endangered millions of people worldwide and continues to thrive despite varying efforts of medical research, social distancing, and other methods of combating such an unpredictable foe. The death toll in the United States approached 400,000. Vaccines exist and are being administered, but the virus has already mutated more than once and health officials are sparing with their optimism on a quick recovery. The incoming President has said that dealing with the pandemic will be his top priority. Primary among those efforts is yet another stimulus bill, yet to be approved by Congress. Because of concerns about spreading the virus, the new administration has designed an inauguration ceremony that will combine both physical and virtual elements. The crowd attending the inauguration in person is expected to be low, by design. Anyone attending must have recently tested negative for the COVID-19 virus and must sit or stand in designated areas, which include distancing specifications.

The second reason that Biden's inauguration will be nontraditional is that the nation's capital is still reeling from a mob attack instigated by Biden's predecessor, President Trump. The 45th President still claims that Biden's election victory in November was the result of widespread fraud, and a great many people continue to believe this as well.

Storming the Capitol

On January 6, the day that Congress had gathered to certify the results of the Electoral College tally, matching initial projections that Biden would receive 306 total electoral votes–thus giving him more than the 270 necessary to achieve the presidency–Trump gave a speech to a crowd gathered not far from the Capitol building. The speech and the crowd turned angrier and angrier; and after the speech, many in the crowd marched to the Capitol, overwhelmed Capitol Police, ransacked the building, killed a handful of people, and (so later reports said) intended to kidnap and potentially harm members of Congress, who barricaded themselves behind the doors of the congressional chamber, fearing for their lives.

As a result, a total exceeding 25,000 National Guard troops are deployed in and around the Capitol building, in order to prevent further violence and deal with threats on the lives of Biden, Harris, and other incoming officials. In a juxtaposition of the twin storylines, those troops are wearing masks.

National Guard in D.C.

Surrounding the Capitol building is a new 7-foot-tall fence, topped with barbed wire. Concrete road barriers ring the fence, keeping foot and vehicular traffic further away.

As well, a large area of Washington, D.C., surrounding the Capitol and the White House has already been locked down, with security extremely tight and parking garages and parking lots already closed. Armed guards are patrolling a handful of checkpoints surrounding this exclusion zone. Many hotel chains and the popular hotel alternative Airbnb announced last week that they had canceled further reservations for the D.C. area. All transportation services into the area have been limited.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White