Snapshot: @StateDept COVID-19 Cases as of March 31, 2020 #newreportingsystem

 

On March 31, the State Department updated its running total of COVID-19 cases domestically and at overseas posts. The update also notes that it has a “new reporting systems for overseas posts” which apparently resulted in “additional detailed documentation of more cases on March 31.”
The updated numbers still do not include death data, and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) data.
The day before, on March 30, State/MED’s Walters said during the briefing:

The department continues to sustain and protect our overseas workforce in over 200 locations around the world.  With a large employee footprint, nearly 75,000 employees, our current caseload overseas is only 75 cases – five hospitalized, all locally employedDomestically we have 30 cases in nine cities.  Most cities are single case or two cases.  We do not have a documented case of employee-to-employee transmission.  We’re watching very closely to that.  We’ve been very aggressive in identifying cases early, decontaminating or disinfecting any impacted spaces and getting those spaces back into operation to support State Department functions on behalf of the American people. 

When asked about “deaths among the State Department staff due to coronavirus”,  Dr. Walters responded:

So the department is aware of two locally employed staff – I don’t have locations and wouldn’t be able to provide further details – that have died overseas in their own country related to coronavirus.  I don’t have any further details that I can pass on.  There have been no deaths domestically or with any U.S. direct hires.  

We have noted elsewhere that the two deaths reference here occurred in Jakarta and Kinshasa. See Pompeo Reads the Data Set Every Morning But Can’t Get @StateDept COVID-19 Casualty Details Right.
As to the “30 cases in nine cities”, we have only counted six cities to-date, so we’re missing three cities at this time.
March 31, 2020 Update

 

March 27, 2020 Update

As of March 27, 2020

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US Embassy Chad: Where You Can Manifest But You Can Never Leave #StuckInChad

 

Remember in 2017 when Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries? One of those eight countries was Chad.  BuzzFeed reported at that time: ” Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.”
In response to travel ban, Chad withdrew hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. See Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions.
At that time, we also wrote that “the USG’s action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember.”
Maybe this is just coincidence, but here we are:
On March 26, 2020, the US Embassy in Ndjamena, Chad announced  that  the U.S. Embassy “received information on a possible flight that could leave as early as tomorrow” and that “the flight will be making other stops in Africa before going to Washington, DC.”
On March 27, Embassy Ndjamena announced  that “There will not be a flight leaving Chad tomorrow, Friday March 27.  We have no further information on when a flight will be available, but efforts continue.”
Later on March 27, Embassy Ndjamena announced that the U.S. Embassy “was informed that there will be a flight on Sunday for U.S. citizens to depart Chad. The Embassy has also been informed that there will be a very limited number of seats available, with limited luggage, and no pets.  We have no information about any other future flights.”
Update #4 on March 27 notes that “The U.S. Embassy manifested a limited number of passengers for the flight on Sunday. Unfortunately, if you did not receive an email stating that you had been manifested, there were not enough seats to allocate one for you.”
By March 27, that flight was off again, and the embassy announced that “The U.S. Embassy regrets to inform U.S. citizens that  Sunday’s flight has been cancelled because the Chad MFA denied the request for flight clearance.”
On March 29, Embassy Ndjamena said “There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad.”
On March 30,  the announcement said, “There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad.”
On March 30, update #6 said, “There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad, although efforts continue.”
On March 31, the statement remains “There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad, although efforts continue.”
On March 31, update #7 said: There are now 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chad. There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad, although efforts continue.”
As of this writing, the latest update posted online is dated  March 31, 2020, 11:00 WAT: ” There are now 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chad. There are no updates to report on flights to depart Chad, although efforts continue.
Chad is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country since October 2019 “due to crimeterrorism, and minefields.” The advisory also notes that “The U.S. Government has extremely limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Chad as U.S. Government employees must obtain special authorization to travel outside of the capital, including the Lake Chad Basin.”
Below via Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Safety and Security Report for Chad:
  • The U.S. Department of State has assessed N’Djaména as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The potential exists for terrorist activity throughout Chad. Violent extremist organizations (e.g. Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, ISIS-Libya, and al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups) can easily cross borders and target Westerners, local security forces, and civilians in the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel.
  • The U.S. Department of State has assessed N’Djaména as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Chad’s recent history is one of political tensions, rebellions, and coup attempts. The current Chadian government has a strong executive branch, headed by President Idriss Déby Itno and dominated by his Zaghawa ethnic group, which controls the political landscape.
  • Border security remains elevated. Chad’s borders with Libya and Sudan are generally off-limits without specific permission from the Government of Chad. The Chad-Libya border is an active conflict zone. New mines may have been laid in secondary roads in 2019, and unexploded ordnance (UXO) remains from the Chad-Libya conflict.
  • Medical care is limited within N’Djaména, and difficult to find outside of major cities. Chad has limited and extremely expensive public ambulance services. In case of emergency, consider transporting the patient with private vehicles.
  • The Chadian government and people are generally friendly towards U.S. citizens, but violent extremist groups in the Lake Chad region and the Sahel have expressed or signaled their intention to target Westerners.
As far as we are aware, US Embassy Ndjamena is not on any type of evacuation status (with the exception of the Global Authorized Departure issued on March 14). But even if it were to go on ordered departure now, the flights are not going anywhere.

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US v. China: Dueling COVID-19 Donations in Namibia

 

On March 18, the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia had an official hand-over of reportedly a thousand COVID-19 test kits donations with Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula. Kalumbi Shangula is a Namibian doctor and politician of SWAPO Party who has been Minister of Health and Social Services since December 2018.
On March 19, the US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson had an official hand-over of donations with Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services Executive Director Ben T. Nangombe, the number #3 ranking official at the Ministry of Health. The USG donated three ambulances, hospital beds, and other medical supplies per U.S. Embassy Namibia.

Hungary’s Orbán Wins Vote to Rule by Decree, @StateDept Issues Weak Sauce Statement 36+ Hours Later

 

 

Pompeo Reads the Data Set Every Morning But Can’t Get @StateDept COVID-19 Casualty Details Right

 

On March 30, the number two official respectively from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Medical Services held another joint Briefing on Updates On Health Impact and Assistance For American Citizens Abroad. When asked, “Are you aware of any deaths among the State Department staff due to coronavirus?”, MED’s Dr. William Walters responded:

So the department is aware of two locally employed staff – I don’t have locations and wouldn’t be able to provide further details – that have died overseas in their own country related to coronavirus.  I don’t have any further details that I can pass on.  There have been no deaths domestically or with any U.S. direct hires.  

Fast forward March 31, the Secretary Pompeo made remarks to the press, excerpt:

And lastly, you asked a question about disinformation in the moment here with the COVID-19 challenge.  I see it every day.  Every morning I get up and I read the data set from across the world, not only the tragedy that’s taking place here.  We’ve had a State Department official pass away as a result of this virus, one of our team members.  We now have 3,000 Americans who have been killed.  This is tragic.  My prayers go out to every American and every American family impacted by this.

This data set matters.  The ability to trust the data that you’re getting so that our scientists and doctors and experts at the World Health Organization and all across the world who are trying to figure out how to remediate this, how to find therapies, how to find – identify a solution which will ultimately be a vaccine, to determine whether the actions that we’re taking – the social distancing, all the things that we’re doing, limiting transportation, all those things we’re doing –  to figure out if they’re working so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired.

This is the reason disinformation is dangerous.  It’s not because it’s bad politics.  It is because it puts lives at risk if we don’t have confidence in the information that’s coming from every country.  So I would urge every nation:  Do your best to collect the data.  Do your best to share that information.  We’re doing that.  We’re collecting, we’re sharing, and we’re making sure that we have good, sound basis upon which to make decisions about how to fight this infectious disease.  That’s the risk that comes when countries choose to engage in campaigns of disinformation across the world.

That made news, of course, but subsequently corrected, because as it turned out —  it was not accurate.
By afternoon, the State Department clarified that there were two employees killed by COVID-19, as revealed in the March 30 briefing. Both were local employees, one from Indonesia (on our list but until now unconfirmed), and another from Democratic Republic of Congo (we previously asked post and FSI about one DRC case, but both were mum as a clam in mud at low tide).
So the secretary of state told everyone at the briefing that “data set matters” and that every morning, he reads the data set from across the world.  Then he talked about one State Department official’s death — “one of our team members” — when THERE WASN’T ONE, and failed to mention during the briefing the death of TWO local employees from COVID-19, non-U.S. citizen members of the State Department family.
Uppercase voice used since he could not even get the casualty details right.
At the end of this story, Pompeo in a belated statement, cited the two local staffers from Jakarta and Kinshasa who died from COVID-19 and expressed “deepest sympathies and condolences.”

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

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Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

@StateDept to Continue Processing H-2 Visas, Program “Essential to the economy and food security of the United States”

 

On March 26, the State Department released a statement  regarding its intention to continue processing nonimmigrant, temporary visas under the H-2 visa program “as much as possible” and as “permitted by post resources and local government restrictions” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement notes that the H-2 program “is essential to the economy and food security of the United States.” The H-2 category allows temporary agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) visas for U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign workers to the United States.  In FY2019, the State Department issued 204,801 H-2A visas for temporary workers performing agricultural services.
Via state.gov:

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. 

The H-2 program is essential to the economy and food security of the United States and is a national security priority. Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.  Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.  We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview. 

Consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during this worldwide pandemic. We encourage applicants to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate in order to confirm the level of services currently offered. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Original statement posted here.

 

Consular Affairs Medical Professionals Visa Announcement Adds to Chaos

 

Via March 27 DOS Briefing:

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Say, Ian, I wanted to ask you a question about this doctor visas thing that you have on your web page. Are you moving medical professionals who can work on COVID-19 treatments basically to the front of the line or speeding up their processing or give them – giving them some sort of preference? And what would you say to people who say you’re essentially trying to poach people and you’re encouraging a brain drain? Thank you.

MR BROWNLEE: We had – excuse – thank you, Carol, for that question. We had some – I’ve got to confess maybe what we put up on the web page is not as clear as it might have been. We’re ready to work with people who are already accepted into existing U.S. programs and had otherwise planned to travel to the United States. We are not going out looking for others. These are people who were ready to come in. What we’ve done is around the world we have suspended routine visa services, but we are – we have not shut down visa services. We’ve suspended routine visa services, and our posts overseas are ready to work with applicants who are – who were already identified as being eligible for these visas. Does that answer your question?
[…]
QUESTION: My question is that – can I actually just follow up on Carol’s question about the visas with regards to the medical professionals? Thank you for the clarification, and I appreciate you saying the initial tweet maybe wasn’t clear enough. Can you – based on what you just said, can we just say now that there is actually an exception to medical professionals who already have their jobs secured but they need their visa to be processed? So can we say that State Department is actually processing those visas, because at the moment all other visas are suspended? And can you elaborate a little bit more on the motivation to process those visas over others? Thank you.

MR WALTERS: [MED CROSSING TO CA LANE]
Well, let me clarify one point. All other visas are not suspended. They are not suspended. We have suspended routine visa services so that we can concentrate our efforts on assisting U.S. citizens. But all other visa services are by no means suspended. So for example, adoption visas. We are still processing visas for U.S. couples who are adopting children overseas. In some cases where there are immigrant visas where an applicant would be at risk of aging out under the law, we are still processing those visas. What we’ve done is substantially reduced our – the provision of visa services.

But let me just – for the sake of absolute clarity, I will read you the – what we are saying about these student – excuse me, about these doctors. The Department of State stands ready to work with doctors and other medical professionals who are already accepted into existing U.S. programs and otherwise expected to travel to the United States to work or study. Even though routine visa services are suspended, the Department and our post services are working to serve the most urgent visa applicants as resources and local government restrictions allow. We encourage medical professionals who already have an approved U.S. visa petition or certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to determine what services that post is currently able to provide. Over.

QUESTION: Hi there. I’m sorry, I’m still confused about this whole physician, medical professional visa thing. If in fact there’s no special treatment being given to them or you’re not specifically encouraging them, why did you put out this tweet or this statement that was also on the travel.state.gov? It wasn’t just a tweet. I don’t get it. It just seems to be – if there is no special treatment, it seems to be a bit tone deaf, considering this mad scramble that everyone else in the world is going through, and including in the U.S.

And then the other thing I’d just like to point out is for everyone else who got that fact sheet, which is great – thank you very much – but make sure you scroll down in the repatriation section, because you don’t see all of the countries at first, and I made that mistake just now. Anyway, thank you for doing this.

[…]
MR BROWNLEE: I’m sorry. Once again, I had mute pressed. Matt, I – what I said to myself here was I’m going to have to take the question as to how this all came to pass. But we are still processing visas around the world for certain cases. These are one, certain H-2As are another. But otherwise I’m happy to take that question. Thank you.

US Embassy Turkmenistan Now on Ordered Departure For All USG Family Members Under 18

 

On March 27, 2020, the State Department issued a Level 3 Reconsider Travel Advisory for Turkmenistan. The advisory also announced the ordered, mandatory departure of  “all family members of U.S. government employees under the age of 18 in addition to the authorized departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to stringent travel restrictions and quarantine procedures that affect commercial flights.”
See excerpt below:

Reconsider Travel to Turkmenistan due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Ashgabat’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.

On March 27, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. government employees under the age of 18 in addition to the authorized departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to stringent travel restrictions and quarantine procedures that affect commercial flights.

The Government of Turkmenistan has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  All incoming international flights are being redirected to Turkmenabat, approximately 291 miles from Ashgabat.  Passengers will be required to undergo medical screening and possibly involuntary quarantine at local medical facilities.

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the website of U.S. Embassy Ashgabat for additional information on these new measures.

Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.  Consider declining any medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.

Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.  Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.

Read the full announcement here.

Map via state.gov

Related posts:
Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020
US Embassy Turkmenistan Now on Voluntary Departure For Non-Emergency USG Staffers/Family Members (March 9, 2020)

 

Snapshot: @StateDept’s COVID-19 Cases, Domestic and Overseas as of 3/27/20

Updated: March 28, 9:55 am PDT

On March 27, the State Department released the official repatriation number of U.S. citizens returned home as well as a summary of COVID-19 cases at its domestic offices and at overseas posts. Still not the specificity that we’re looking for, but it is what it is.  The major breakdowns include total positive cases, pending tests, recovered cases, and number of employees in self-isolation.
There is no data on number of employees evacuated due to COVID-19, or number of deceased in this summary. There was recently unconfirmed information about one casualty in Indonesia. If there are casualties, we would like to see that locally employed staff are also accounted for. Anecdotal evidence also indicates at least one medical evacuation from overseas to Dulles Airport in Virginia. Those cases are also not included in the official summary of cases below.
We understand from a source that the domestic cases may be difficult to track because it is based on self-reporting to MED. If you know otherwise, please let us know.

(see below the official word from State.)

March 27, Briefing With Dr. William Walters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations, Bureau of Medical Services, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ian Brownlee, Bureau of Consular Affairs On COVID-19: 

MR WALTERS: Thank you, Morgan. Hello, everybody, and thanks for the opportunity to give you an update once again. The Bureau of Medical Services really within this outbreak context has two focuses. The first focus is protecting our workforce both domestically and overseas, and our second focus, equally important, is assisting Consular and the rest of the department in the repatriation of American citizens that find them stranded – find themselves stranded in a number of different places around the world.

I can report first on the – on our efforts to protect our workforce. I know there’s a desire to keep pace with sort of how our workforce is doing. I can report that in a workforce of roughly 75,000 people overseas, 220 locations, our current case – COVID-positive cases are at 68. We have one Medevac in transit or in process. That’s an individual who was mildly symptomatic, and we’re coordinating that evacuation back to the States.

And domestically, we have 25 current cases, and – in eight locations around the country, but all are doing well. And that’s about it on the dashboard for today.

With regard to evacuations, I’ll focus first on the medical evacuations. We recently completed a medical evacuation of a coronavirus victim on behalf of DOD out of Camp Lemonnier. That individual – critically ill – was evacuated using our biocontainment capability to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and is doing very well.

An American citizen taken out of Bhutan maybe a week and a half ago and brought back to the United States is doing very well. A chief of mission person that was evacuated out of Ouagadougou was coronavirus-positive and was brought back to the States, is doing very well, and will be convalescing – is being discharged from the hospital and convalescing.

And we have one more that I reported on the dashboard, individual who was minimally symptomatic in south – in – not – in southern Africa, not South Africa – and will be brought back to the States in coming days.

We’re currently running through the State Department’s contracted aviation assets as opposed to charters. We conducted evacuations out of North Africa today, Tunis specifically, completed an evacuation flight out of – that went Ouagadougou to Monrovia, Liberia, and then up to Lisbon, and then back to the States. We’ll be launching more evacuation flights as early as tonight covering Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, into Madagascar. We’ll have one more stop in Africa that we’re working through right now, and then back to the States. And we’ll be conducting these operations over the next several days.