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Some innovation needed for Biden’s inauguration

What if you built an expensive, elaborate reviewing stand for a parade and on the big day, it overlooked an empty street? That is the question both President-elect Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump must answer within just a few weeks.

Inauguration day for American presidents has been a really big deal in the past. Hundreds of thousands of people pack the area at the U.S. Capitol where the new chief executive is being sworn in. About 1,600 dignitaries are on the platform with him. Then follows an enormous parade through Washington and finally, a round of inaugural balls.

Not this year? COVID-19 has changed everything. Tightly packed crowds of the kind that would attended traditional ceremonies are an invitation to new outbreaks of the disease. It is not too much to speculate that such events would mean people die needlessly.

So what to do? Work on both the parade reviewing stand and the inauguration platform at the Capital has already begun.

For his part, Biden has made it clear he does not believe traditional inauguration day activities are wise. Asked about the matter, he told a reporter he doesn’t know “exactly how it’s all going to work out. … The key is keeping people safe.”

It has been speculated one way to accomplish that would be to stage various inauguration-related events semi-privately, broadcasting them to the American people by television and on the internet. That may be a partial solution, but it should not be the whole show.

Because Trump remains president until Biden takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, some arrangements will hinge on what the current White House decides. We encourage Trump to proceed with work such as construction of the parade reviewing stand, simply to give Biden all the flexibility possible under trying circumstances.

Putting thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people at risk through an irresponsible determination that the show must go on would not be prudent. Regardless of what Biden and his transition team decide, he is right that keeping people safe needs to be the priority.

Surely, however, the American people are innovative enough to come up with ceremonies that are both safe and in keeping with our tradition of making inauguration day a celebration — not just of the new president, but also of how we handle major transitions in government. Making that happen may be especially important during the pandemic.

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