Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to plan to hold diplomatic holiday celebrations with hundreds of invitees at the U.S. State Department despite coronavirus lockdown protocols and the department's advice to his own staff, current and former officials said Foreign policy.
State Department plans to push annual holiday celebrations forward, even if the Trump administration's own health experts urge people to avoid large gatherings as coronavirus cases increase in the United States, increases the risk of exposure and infection for employees and contractors State government increase the events as well as occupy the participants themselves.
Outside Foggy Bottom, the United States reported more than 2,800 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day number since the pandemic began.
According to four officials familiar with the matter, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, State Department caterers and waiters work for contractors and many have no health insurance. At least one member of the Foreign Ministry's catering staff who worked on the eighth floor, where the Foreign Ministry's spacious diplomatic reception rooms and event rooms are located, has already been infected with the coronavirus. According to several officials, his family is organizing an online fundraiser to help cover hospital bills.
For some officials, the parties highlight a broader problem with the Trump administration's approach to the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 270,000 Americans: Even though the government's top health experts are calling for strict mask protocols and begging Americans to do it at home To stay and avoid contact with other people The President and his entourage downplay the effects of the virus and disapprove of the health procedures themselves.
"I'm amazed. … An indoor event like this is dangerous on so many levels," said Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Washington Postwhat first broke the story.
The State Department plans to follow guidelines "in accordance with instructions from health officials," requiring all attendees to wear masks and social distancing as well as temperature checks with forehead scanners prior to attending the events, a State Department spokesman said Foreign policy in an email response.
"We have taken every precaution to reduce the number of people in all rooms at the same time, and plan to keep the outside space open and available to participants, weather permitting," the spokesman added.
The department also splits its annual diplomatic corps reception into two parties and organizes entry to at least one of the events into three blocks of time to limit the size of entry lines and gatherings. "We do not expect any problems with monitoring the number of people in these indoor spaces or [exceeding] the number allocated for indoor gatherings," the spokesman added.
The State Department declined to respond to additional questions, including how participants would wear masks while eating and drinking, whether the events would pose an unreasonable risk to the staff who occupy the events, and why the department is not required to the district to comply with Columbia’s COVID-19 Restriction Protocols. The district has banned outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people and indoor gatherings of 10 or more people.
Despite the State Department's pledges to take all precautions for the events, some State Department officials and foreign diplomats in Washington who had received invitations said so Foreign policy They are not planning to attend because they fear events could spread the virus further in the Washington, DC area, where cases have already seen a surge in recent weeks. Others said attending the events just didn't feel right given the risk to caterers, waiters, cooks, facility managers and other event staff.
“It's not just about the 900 guests, but also about those who do not have the decision to decline an invitation because it is their job to serve, to the delight of the Foreign Minister – who might choose not to attend these events out of concern have the greater good, "said one official on condition of anonymity. "Reports of guests catching Covid are worrying, but what risk do the employees who have to hold all these events without obligation take?"
The department has planned at least three holiday celebrations, according to invitations from Foreign policy and statements from officials.
On December 8, State Department protocol chief Cam Henderson is hosting an open house and tour of the White House, followed by a reception at Blair House – the President's nearby guest house. An event is also scheduled for December 15 for the families of State Department officials serving on posts abroad that are unable to bring family members, including those posted to Afghanistan and Iraq. Another party with the foreign diplomatic corps is scheduled for December 16, including foreign ambassadors based in Washington. An official familiar with the matter said such events could attract hundreds of guests over the past few years. The Washington Post reported that a total of over 900 invitations were sent.
In a message to the department's staff received from Foreign Policy on November 25, State Department Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao urged all staff to “Our critical security measures such as social distancing, wearing cloth coverings, and staying to be strictly observed at home in case of illness. "He also said the department would encourage employees to work from home and avoid going to the office unnecessarily at the start of the new year, given the ongoing risks posed by the coronavirus.
“Given the increasing cases across the country and in line with the flexibility Diplomacy Strong provides, it is highly recommended that domestic offices maximize teleworking from November 26, 2020 to January 3, 2021. Supervisors should only allow employees to come to the office to perform tasks that cannot be performed while teleworking, ”wrote Bulatao, citing the“ Diplomacy Strong ”department's plan for a safe return to work.
But to many, the rhetoric sounds hollow.
"At this superspreader event, we all feel that the news from above is in direct conflict with their actions," said a State Department official.