Pompeo’s COVID-19 Response in the News, Plus March 17 Remarks in Word Cloud

 

Via Pompeo’s Remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room, March 17, 2020, where he took three questions, and did not really address COVID-19 related questions:
— If anyone in this building or in the diplomatic corps overseas has tested positive for the virus, what you’re doing for those employees.  And then at our embassies overseas, are we ramping up medical facilities?  What is the plan to treat Americans in those countries since a lot of the flights have been canceled, the borders are closed?  Are they getting sent testing kits?  How is any of that working? —
Except to say “So I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the intricacies of what the State Department’s doing.  It is a rapidly evolving situation” and “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests.” and that’s pretty much it; a remark by a public official missing in details, given he’s the head of over 75,000 people across the globe.

US Embassy Azerbaijan Now on Voluntary Departure For Non-Emergency USG Staffers/Family Members

 

On March 6, 2020, the State Department issued a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” to Azerbaijan Travel Advisory due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the response of the Azerbaijani Government. It also announced the voluntary departure from post of non-emergency USG staffers and their family members. Excerpt:

Reconsider travel to Azerbaijan due to an outbreak of COVID-19 and responsive measures implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan.

Reconsider travel to Azerbaijan due to the risk of a significant increase of COVID-19 cases emanating from the Iranian border and the Government of Azerbaijan’s response to COVID-19. The Government of Azerbaijan is screening international travelers for symptoms of COVID-19 and has implemented mandatory quarantine for suspected cases in designated quarantine facilities. Travel restrictions imposed in other countries and reduced commercial flight availability may impede people seeking medical evacuation. Medical care in Azerbaijan is not consistent with U.S. standards and basic medical supplies may be unavailable in some areas. Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to Azerbaijan and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.

On March 6, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

Azerbaijan has a longstanding risk presented by terrorist groups, who continue plotting possible attacks in Azerbaijan. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas. 

Level 4 – Do not travel to:

The Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict.

US Embassy Mongolia Now on Voluntary Departure For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members

 

On February 25, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and their family members due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to an outbreak in the neighboring People’s Republic of China of COVID-19 (the “novel coronavirus,” also known as the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2). (see link below).

 

South Korea Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider Travel February 29, 2020
Italy Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider Travel February 29, 2020
Iran Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel February 26, 2020
Mongolia Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider Travel February 26, 2020
Japan Travel Advisory Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution February 22, 2020
Hong Kong Travel Advisory Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution February 20, 2020
Macau Travel Advisory Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution February 11, 2020
China Travel Advisory Level 4: Do Not Travel February 2, 2020

USConGen Milan Suspends Routine Visa Services Until March 2, 2020 #Covid19

 

On February 23, 2020, the US Embassy in Rome issued a Health Alert noting the official count of over 150 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Italy and the suspension of routine visa services at the U.S. Consulate General in Milan “due to reduced staffing levels.” On Twitter, post says that USCG Milan is suspending routine visa services “out of an abundance of caution.” The consulate general will continue to provide routine and emergency American citizen services.

Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Rome, Italy – February 23, 2020

Location:
  Regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia

Event:  The U.S. Embassy continues to monitor the health situation in Italy and recommends that individuals follow Italian health official guidance and avoid government-designated affected areas.  Due to reduced staffing levels, the U.S. Consulate General in Milan has suspended routine visa services until March 2, 2020.  Both routine and emergency American Citizen Services will continue at the Consulate General in Milan.  Full consular services are also available at the Embassy in Rome and the Consulates General in Florence and Naples.

Officials count over 150 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Italy, the majority of which are in the Province of Lodi in the south of the Lombardy region. Two cases have been confirmed in Milan, and one each in Bergamo, Monza, and Turin.  Cases have also been reported in the areas of Brescia, Cremona, and Pavia.  Lombardy regional officials have cancelled schools for the week. City, regional and national officials continue to meet and assess the situation as more information becomes known.

Coronavirus infection rates are still very low, but those concerned that they are presenting multiple symptoms should contact 112 or 1500 to consult with Italian emergency healthcare professionals.

Previously, on January 31, 2020, U.S. Embassy Rome issued a Health Alert noting two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Rome:

On January 30, 2020, the Italian Ministry of Health announced two confirmed case of novel Coronavirus in Rome.
Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.

On February 7, 2020, USCG Naples issued a Health Alert noting the mandatory thermal screening required at Italian ports of entry:

On February 5, 2020, Italian public health officials implemented mandatory thermal screening at all Italian air and maritime ports of entry in response to the recent Novel Coronavirus outbreak.

On February 21, US Embassy Rome issued a Health Alert noting 14 confirmed Covid-19 cases in two areas and the mandated closure of public schools and offices:

On February 21, the Italian Ministry of Health announced 14 confirmed case of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the town of Codogno in the Lombardy region and two cases in Vo’ Euganeo near Padua.

Public school and offices have been closed in the affected areas and Italian health officials have advised residents in these areas to avoid public spaces. Travelers in the area should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.

 

Report: Covid19-Infected Amcits From #DiamondPrincess Flown Home Against CDC Advice

 

Via WaPo, February 20, 2020:

In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers.
[…]
The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.
[…]

During one call, the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, argued against taking the infected Americans on the plane, according to two participants. She noted the U.S. government had already told passengers they would not be evacuated with anyone who was infected or who showed symptoms. She was also concerned about infection control.

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was also on the calls, recalled saying her points were valid and should be considered.

But Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the coronavirus task force, pushed back: Officials had already prepared the plane to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the long flight, he argued. The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned off with 10-foot-high plastic on all four sides. Infectious disease doctors would also be onboard.

“We felt like we had very experienced hands in evaluating and caring for these patients,” Kadlec said at a news briefing Monday.

The State Department made the call. The 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they be brought home, said William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department.

As the State Department drafted its news release, the CDC’s top officials insisted that any mention of the agency be removed.

Read the full report below.
Anyone know if the State Department has a Task Force for Covid-19 already? It looks like U.S. citizens in Hubei Province or those with information about U.S. citizens in Hubei are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or the State Department at the same email address: CoronaVirusEmergencyUSC@state.gov.
Excerpt from State Dept Special Briefing on Repatriation ofo U.S. Citizens from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, February 17, 2020:

OPERATOR: The line of Alex Horton from Washington Post has been opened. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks, everyone, for jumping on this call on a holiday. So I was curious about when discussion with the CDC was executed to make this call. Based on their press release a few days ago, they said there would be screening to prevent symptomatic travelers from departing Japan. The press release you guys issued is very carefully worded when you said, “After consulting HHS, the State Department made the decision to allow those individuals to go on,” those 14.

So is there daylight with CDC and HHS in this decision by you guys to send them forward, and what were some of their objections that you – that you seem to have overturned?

DR WALTERS: This is Dr. Walters. What I’d say is that the chief of mission, right, through the U.S. embassy, is ultimately the head of all executive branch activities. So when we are very careful about taking responsibility for the decision, the State Department is – that is the embassy. The State Department was running the aviation mission, and the decision to put the people into that isolation area initially to provide some time for discussion and for onward, afterwards, is a State Department decision.

There is a – I think where you might see the appearance of a discrepancy is in the definition of symptomatic. Symptomatic – when we use the word “symptomatic,” we’re talking about coughing and sneezing and fever and body aches. Those are symptoms, all right? And as Dr. Kadlec laid out and I reinforced, each one of these 338 [4] people was evaluated by an experienced medical provider, and none of them had symptoms.

Once they were on the bus, we received information about a lab test that had been done two or three days earlier. But it is, in fact – it is a fact that no symptomatic patients – no one with a fever or a cough or lower respiratory tract infection or body aches, or anything that would lead one to believe this person is infected with the virus was – none of that was in place before – at the time a decision was made to evacuate these folks.

 

Two Charter Flights From #DiamondPrincess Depart Tokyo, Few “High Risk” Patients Now in Nebraska

 

The U.S.  Embassy in Tokyo announced that on February 17 at 0705 JST, two charter flights carrying passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship departed Tokyo en route to the United States.
This letter was sent to American passengers and crew on Sunday morning. It includes details on the repatriation operation as well as information for those who opts not to board. Letter in part says “Based on the high number of COVID-19 cases identified onboard the Diamond Princess, the Department of Health and Human Services made an assessment that passengers and crew members onboard are at high risk of exposure. Given this assessment, the U.S. Government is chartering these flights to minimize the risks to your health going forward.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a statement on repatriation of American passengers and crew.
The letter further notes that passengers on the chartered aircraft will be quarantined in the United States at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California or Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas for 14 days upon arrival. However, it looks like the two flights initially landed in California and Texas, then proceeded to Nebraska with a few patients considered “high risk.”. One local report says that “13 Americans who were on the cruise ship in Japan arrived in Omaha today.”

Inbox: Munich Security Conference – Coronavirus Policy #Covid19

We got this recently in our inbox. The Munich Security Conference was Feb 14, 2020 – Feb 16, 2020. Sender A notes that this was written anonymously for fear of retribution:

Although CDC website states, “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low at this time,” there is nothing “general” about the Munich Security Conference [MSC] and its Corornavirus policy. 

Multiple congressional delegations and US senior officials will spend 2-4 days in a small, tightly-packed hotel with over 1,000 people (imagine a small cruise ship) at the Bayerischer Hof – the MSC venue.  All the while, this venue is open to participants coming directly from China and participants who may have recently traveled to China.  Given the prestige around attending MSC, it would be naive to assume that none of the MSC participants downplayed their travels to and around China simply to secure entry into Germany.

If anyone from the USG contracts the coronavirus as a result of attending MSC, will they be eligible for workers compensation? High level USG officials had a choice to attend or not attend MSC (and thereby risk contracting coronavirus); the staff they dragged along not so much.  Will US citizens who attend this conference, including all senators, be tested for coronavirus upon arrival into the US? Or do the rest of us have to hope they don’t inadvertently bring this virus back with them? 

Perhaps it is time for State Department’s Office of Medical Service to publish its so-called assessment of MSC/coronavirus risk.  The one that was passed around to everyone.  To say it utterly failed to take into account the impact of working in close quarters over multiple days in an enclosed space that welcomes participants who have just come from or recently traveled to China is an understatement.  Considering this virus spreads even when a carrier has no symptoms, if a similar event is to take place on US soil, does the State Department plan to hand out travel waivers to all foreign government officials who have just come from or recently traveled to China?

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau on ‘Voluntary Departure’ Over Covid19 Outbreak

 

On February 11, the State Department issued a Level 2 Exercise Increase Caution for the Hong Kong and Macau. The announcement includes public notice of the voluntary evacuation order of February 10 for the consulate general’s non-emergency staff and and their family members due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (now officially called covid19).  Excerpt below:

Exercise Increased Caution due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.  Read the entire Travel Advisory.

A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel Coronavirus outbreak. On February 8, the Hong Kong government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for anyone, regardless of nationality, arriving in Hong Kong who has visited mainland China within a 14-day period. This quarantine does not apply to individuals transiting Hong Kong International Airport and certain exempted groups such as flight crews. However, health screening measures are in place at all of Hong Kong’s borders and the Hong Kong authorities will quarantine individual travelers, including passengers transiting the Hong Kong International Airport, if the Hong Kong authorities determine the traveler to be a health risk. Please refer to the Hong Kong government’s press release for further details.

On January 30, the Hong Kong government temporarily closed certain transportation links and border checkpoints connecting Hong Kong with mainland China and on February 3 suspended ferry services from Macau.

On February 10, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members due to the novel coronavirus and the impact to Mission personnel as schools and some public facilities have been closed until further notice.

The Department of State has raised the Travel Advisory for mainland China to Level 4: Do Not Travel due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Warning:  Avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Full advisory available here.