U.S. Foreign Service group blasts State Department's plans for large indoor holiday events during Covid surge
As Covid-19 surges across the country, the American Foreign Service Association on Friday criticized large indoor holiday events scheduled at the U.S. State Department.
AFSA, whose members include active-duty and retired Foreign Service officers and specialists at the State Department and other federal agencies, said in a statement that it is „very concerned to see reports of plans to host holiday parties with hundreds of invitees at the Department of State.“
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other State Department officials have planned several indoor holiday parties, including one with at least 900 guests invited, The Washington Post reported.
The scheduled events fly in the face of a Nov. 25 notice from State Department leadership that instructed employees to avoid hosting non-mission critical events in person and „opt for virtual events,“ NBC News reported.
„We urge the Department to reverse course and model responsible behavior in accordance with its own guidelines,“ AFSA said.
„We’ve taken every precaution to thin out the number of individuals in all spaces at one time, and plan to keep outdoors space open and available to attendees, weather permitting,“ a State Department spokesperson said in an email in response to AFSA’s statement, adding that the department plans to follow health precautions including requiring masks, social distancing and temperature checks.
The spokesperson did not provide guidance on how the State Department will enforce mask-wearing while food and beverages are provided at the events.
The Centers for Disease Control cautions against indoor gatherings, which it says poses more risk of coronavirus spread than outdoor gatherings.
The White House also plans to host at least 20 indoor holiday parties, according to NBC News, including one held Tuesday night featuring an appearance from President Donald Trump. Pictures from the event show several attendees not wearing masks.
Several White House events, including the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett and an election night celebration, have resulted in dozens of coronavirus cases. In all, at least 45 people connected to the White House, including Trump, first lady Melania Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have tested positive for the virus.
When asked during a press conference Wednesday whether the White House is setting a good example for Americans by hosting in-person holiday parties, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, „You can celebrate the holiday of Christmas, and you can do it responsibly…We will engage in the celebration of Christmas.“ McEnany tested positive for Covid-19 in October.
A report from the White House’s own coronavirus task force obtained by NBC News on Wednesday warned „the COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high.“
The report urged Americans to avoid social gatherings and said, „It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health.“
The U.S. reported a record number of daily new Covid-19 cases, current hospitalizations and single-day deaths on Thursday, indicating that the national virus crisis is only accelerating.