@StateDept: “not tracking any specific exposure to any specific individual at the ambassadorial level”

 

Via Briefing With Senior State Department Officials On COVID-19: Updates on Health Impact and Assistance for American Citizens Abroad MARCH 23, 2020

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this.  Two things.  First, for the Senior Official One, can you respond to Senator Menendez’s letter yesterday in which he calls for the administration to invoke authorities within the Civil Reserve Air Fleet readiness program to facilitate chartering these flights to get people back, and in which he also calls for the military or the Department of Defense to make military aircraft available.

And then secondly, for Senior Official Two, as I’m sure you’re aware, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Ambassador Marks self-quarantined on Thursday at least four days after she returned to South Africa from the United States after having spent time among other things on a U.S. Naval vessel.  Why did she self-quarantine on Thursday?  Was there something that happened between Monday and Thursday that caused her to do that, some kind of exposure?  And if not, why didn’t she self-quarantine immediately upon return to South Africa?  Or indeed, why did she return to South Africa in the first place if she had a potential exposure?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you, Arshad.  With regard to MilAir, with regard to using those assets, we are in conversations with the Department of Defense through what is called the ExecSec – ExecSec process.  They are one of the options that we might find ourselves calling on down the road.  At the moment, though, we are finding that – excuse me – that laying on charters via the K Fund, via other mechanisms we have here in the State Department is an efficient way to do this.

As I said, we are also helping private carriers increase the number of flights they have.  So, for example, going into Peru, our Economic Bureau is facilitating conversation amongst the U.S. Government agencies involved in providing this end of the regulatory approval while our embassy in Lima is working with the Peruvian authorities on getting the necessary regulatory approvals down there.  And so we’re able to increase the capacity that way.  This is a – whole-of-government is a cliche.  This is more of a whole-of-possibility effort to get people out, and so no option is foreclosed at (inaudible) and – out.

QUESTION:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  What about the question that I had regarding Ambassador Marks and why she did not self-isolate prior to Thursday?  I’d like an answer, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  All right.  This is [Senior State Department Official Two].  I can’t speak on an individual case, but I can give you from a policy perspective and sort of the way we’re addressing the disparate self-quarantine and isolation requirements in over 220 locations around the world.  First, we’re not tracking any specific exposure to any specific individual at the ambassadorial level, but I can tell you when any traveler from the State Department returns to a host nation, we respect – to the extent that we can we respect their requirements.  It’s the right thing to do, and I think we would expect their diplomats to do the same when they come to the United States.

 

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Evacuation Tracker: U.S. Foreign Service Posts (Updated March 24, 2020)

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

“In an unprecedented move, the department has authorized departure from post for all employees abroad who are considered to be especially medically vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19.  To date, we’ve also granted ordered departure and authorized voluntary departure to 17 posts and will continue to assess the need to grant more as time progresses. “

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

Senior State Department Official Special Briefing, March 23, 2020

QUESTION:  And do you have numbers on authorized departures and ordered departures?  How many people have taken you up on it so far?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  We’ll have to take that question and get back to you.  I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips.  I apologize.

Related post:
March 23, 2020: U.S. Foreign Service Posts: Tracking Voluntary Departures and Mandatory Evacuations

@StateDept Official Touts “Robust Health Care System”, Talks BioFire FilmArray For COVID19 Testing at FS Posts

 

Via SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  Hi, guys.  Following up a little bit about what Matt was talking about, when it comes to these embassies overseas, I want to clarify something we talked about yesterday.  It sounds to me like, for the moment, these staff members are completely reliant on local healthcare infrastructure for testing and treatment should they get ill.  Is that correct?  And are you planning to stand up any kind of medical capacity at these embassies or is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Well, working overseas for the State Department or for any government agency in a country that may have poor medical resources has been challenging all along.  We have a process in place that generally we try and make sure that people with underlying medical conditions would only go to places where they have local resources that could take care of them.  Obviously COVID presents new challenges.

We do have, like I said earlier, a robust health care system, a medical program.  We have doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses deployed at almost every mission around the world.  We rely also heavily on local staff that we employ in our health units.  And they’re the frontline.  I mean, they’ll see the patients first, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s anything else, and either provide care directly or to find the best local care available.

In COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.  In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.  I’m not sure if we’ve actually sent back samples to the CDC in Atlanta, but that’s an option as well.  But I heard news today that there’s been approval for a use of a device called BioFire FilmArray, which is an apparatus that we actually have in a number of embassies overseas, so lab testing machines doesn’t require – it requires expertise, but it doesn’t require a special license to use.  And BioFire company just had their approval given for use of – for creation of a cartridge to test for COVID.  So going forward, we anticipate we’ll be able to do a lot more of our own monitoring and testing.  Thank you.

During the briefing, the SSDO said, “ COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.”  True, but he did not really answer  the “is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?” part of the question, did he? 
Also the maker of the BioFire® COVID-19 Test said on its website that it is yet to be submitted for Emergency Use Authorization in the second quarter of 2020, while the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel us expected to be submitted to the FDA for EUA in the third quarter of 2020:
BioFire® COVID-19 Test

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, BioFire Defense is developing a fully-automated, sample-to-result assay for the specific detection of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. This assay is designed to run on both the BioFire® FilmArray® 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray® Torch Systems and will deliver results in about an hour. The BioFire COVID-19 Test is being developed on an accelerated timeline, with submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) anticipated in Q2 of 2020.

BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel

In parallel, BioFire Diagnostics is developing new SARS-CoV-2-specific assays for addition to the BioFire® FilmArray® Respiratory 2 (RP2) Panel. This new panel will be named the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 (RP2.1) Panel and is being developed for both the BioFire® FilmArray 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray Torch Systems. In addition to the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the BioFire RP2.1 Panel will detect 21 additional respiratory pathogens to help clinicians quickly rule in and rule out other common causes of respiratory illness in about 45 minutes. Development of the BioFire RP2.1 Panel is also occurring on an accelerated timeline, and submission to the FDA for EUA and 510(k) clearance is anticipated in Q3 of 2020.

In the meantime, SSDO also said, “In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.”
What happens in places where there is no local testing?

Did US Embassy Bangui Go on “Ordered Departure” Without Telling Anyone? (Updated)

Updated 3/28/2020, 8:20 pm PDT | US Embassy Bangui’s Health Alert dated March 26, 2020 says “On March 18, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel in Bangui.”
We learned last week that the US Embassy in Bangui, Central African Republic “just went on ordered departure.” Apparently this was less about Covid19 and more about a flare-up of violence in the country. To-date, neither the State Department nor the US Embassy has made an announcement about this post’s evacuation status.
On March 20, US Embassy Bangui released the following statement about reduced staffing:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui announces that it is reducing its staffing in response to increasing travel restrictions, limited health infrastructure and potential disruption of supply chains for essential goods in the Central African Republic.

We call your attention to the State Department’s Global Travel Advisory issued March 19, 2020

The State Department has issued a global travel advisory advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not provide visa or citizen services  to U.S. citizens in CAR.  U.S. citizens in need of assistance there are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Note that the Central African Republic is on a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory “due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping” as of December 12, 2019. The Travel Advisory has not been updated to indicate its evacuation status as of this writing.
A source at a neighboring post is similarly perplexed as they know from colleagues in Bangui that the embassy has gone on ordered departure despite the lack of public announcement.  We were asked if it is possible to have an internal ordered departure and Foggy Bottom knows it but it’s not ‘official’?
These days anything is possible, it seems, but we don’t know how that works without running afoul of 7 FAM 050 No Double Standard Policy. “Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.”
7 FAM 053(f) includes a reminder: “Remember that if post concludes it should warn, or has warned, its personnel or any U.S. Government employees beyond those with a strict need-to-know, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, post should share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “No Double Standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052).