US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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@StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else? (Updated)

 

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

Update 4/27/21 4:11 PST:  We’ve learned that four FSNs have died at US Mission India due to COVID. One died in November, and three have died in the current second wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine shots became available. The Mission has now gone back to Phase 1 mostly conducting telework.  We understand that family members are now on authorized departure but we have not seen the official announcement yet. 
CNN is reporting that a COVID outbreak at US Mission India has resulted in the death of two locally employed staffers, and over 100 positive cases “in recent weeks.” The report did not indicate which posts the outbreak occurred.
During the Daily Press Briefing of April 26, one of the reporters asked about the outbreak, and here is the official non-answer:
QUESTION: Can you speak to reports of a outbreak among U.S. diplomatic staff in India, say how many are affected, and if perhaps, considering that, the U.S. might be looking at authorized departure?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in the position to confirm any cases within our staff. Obviously, privacy considerations limit what we can say. But as I have mentioned during the course of this briefing alone, India is enduring a deeply concerning outbreak, and the entire country has been affected. We obviously do have a large diplomatic presence within India. It is tantamount to the deep engagement and partnership we have with India. But I’m not in a position to speak to any cases within our staff or embassy community.
During the COVID outbreak in January at U.S. Forces Korea, USFK reported:
“19 new infections at Yongsan between Jan. 5 and Thursday. It provided no further information about the five late Thursday. Of the remaining 14, four are Defense Department employees, six are contractors, two are spouses, one is a dependent and one is a South Korean taxi driver.”
Unlike DOD, the State Department almost always hide behind “privacy considerations” when asked to account for the welfare of its employees overseas. We can understand if Department officials do not want to talk about a potential authorized departure order but note that the other question asked was for the number of employees affected by the COVD outbreak at US Mission India. The reporter was not asking for identifying information; the question was not an invasion of  an infected employee’s privacy. We want to know how many employees and family members have been affected by the pandemic at US Mission India and wehat is State doing about it. If as reported, medical facilities have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds, are there medevac flights?

OPM: Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)? View

The most recent publicly available information on staffing is from 2018. It indicates that the U.S. diplomatic mission in India which consists of the embassy in New Delhi and consulates general in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, employed more than 2,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. As with other diplomatic posts, several agencies are represented at the mission, including the U.S. Commercial Service, the Foreign Agriculture Service, and elements of the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.
The 2018 report also indicates that almost 40 percent of mission staff worked at the four constituent posts, and the Consuls General were in charge of staffs ranging from 183 in Kolkata to 391 in Mumbai. That means Embassy Delhi has about 60% of the total staff or around 1,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. These numbers do not include family members and members of household at Mission India.  However, we estimate that the number of family members/MOH at post could not be over 533. The Family Liaison Office’s data from Fall 2020 indicates that there are 533 family members “at post” for the South and Central Asian Affairs bureau which covers India plus 12 other countries.

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Mexico: US Consulate Tijuana Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos Found Dead in a Field

 

Fox 5 San Diego reported on October 2 that a local  employee of the US Consulate General in Tijuana, Mexico reported missing on September 30 was found dead in a field southeast of the city. The employee identified as Edgar Flores Santos worked on animal and plant inspection for the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS office in Tijuana.
The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau tweeted that US Mission Mexico is mourning the loss of Flores Santos and that the mission is grateful for his service. He also tweeted that post offers its sincere condolences to his loved ones and will work with law enforcement until he and his family receive justice. 
Fox 5 San Diego also published a statement issued by US Consulate Tijuana:
“The community of the U.S. Consulate of the United States in Tijuana deeply laments reports of the death of one of our local employees, a member of the Agricultural Department involved in the sanitary inspections of plants and animals with the office in Tijuana,” read the statement. “We are awaiting official confirmation, and we’ll continue working with local authorities investigating the case, out of respect for the family we will have no further comment.”

 

 

COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (April 14 Update)

Our COVID-19 tracker has large gaps in it, but we don’t have a better alternative on breakdowns as the State Department is only releasing total numbers, not locations.  We have updated our tracker to include the two confirmed FSN deaths in Jakarta, Indonesia and Kinshasa, DRC, and one confirmed FSN death at an undeclared location. There are currently two domestic deaths, one in NYC, a contractor, and one in Washington, D.C. at an undeclared office location, a Civil Service employee.

DOS Briefing 4/14/20: The State Department continues to strongly enforce and practice the appropriate social distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions, and that continues to be reflected in our own disease curves.  Currently there are – we’re tracking 297 overseas cases, including 182 active with 115 recovered, holding at – thankfully holding at three overseas deaths, all within locally employed staff. Domestic cases are 71 current cases, 67 with four recovered.  Important to note that we started to see domestic cases in the second into the third week of March, and so this is the point at which we would expect to see those cases start to recover.  So I would anticipate over the next week, we’ll start to see the recovery cases start to climb. I am saddened to say that we’ve had our first – our second domestic death, our first within the U.S. direct-hire population, a civil servant serving here in Washington, D.C.  And our condolences do go out to the family and to all families that have been impacted by coronavirus.”

DOS Briefing 3/23/20 “I can tell you we’re still at single digits here in the United States with cases – one each, two each, three each in Washington; Houston; Boston; New York; Quantico, Virginia; and Seattle.  So the numbers themselves are – overseas are still double-digit.  We’re looking at less than 30 scattered over 220 posts around the world, and it remains a challenge.” 

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Snapshot: @StateDept COVID-19 Cases as of April 3, 2020

The State Department updated its COVID-19 cases on Friday, April 3. 2020. From March 31 to April 3, the number of employees and family members overseas who were self-isolating went from 2,288 to 3,528, an increase of 1,240. The number of positive cases decreased from 149 to 108; while those who recovered went from 42 on March 31 to 79 on April 3, a difference of 37 new individuals recovered.
The April 3 update now includes the number of deaths. As of April 3, there were three deaths overseas from COVID-19, all three are noted as Locally Employed (LE) staffers. We learned previously that one LE staffer died in Jakarta, and another in Kinshasa. We do not know as yet, the location of the third casualty. In the April 3 briefing, Dr. Walters declined to identify the country where the third death occurred. Why? We can’t say. Obviously, the next of kin already know about the death. Co-workers at post already know about the death. We’re not sure why they’re refusing the even identify post; reporters are not asking for names. If Walters is going to cite the Privacy Act, deceased individuals and country names do not have Privacy Act rights. If there’s a real rationale for this, we’d like to know.
The April 3 update still do not include information on the number of medical evacuations (MEDEVAC), USG patients or places of origin. We can confirm at least one MEDEVAC from Burkina Faso, and that USG patient is on the road to recovery.
For domestic cases, the number of self-isolating employees went from 44 to 50 in three days, with positive cases going from 33 to 46 cases.  The report indicates that two domestic employees have recovered as of April 3, 2020.
See excerpts from April 3 briefing below.

 

As of April 3, 2020

As of March 31, 2020

 

Dr. Walters on April 3 Briefing:

Now moving on to the latest COVID-19 statistics for the Department of State, as of today, April 3rd, there are 108 confirmed cases overseas. There are 46 confirmed cases domestically, occurring in nine different cities. So far, there are no reported deaths domestically, but unfortunately there are now a total of three deaths overseas amongst our workforce.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I just had a question about the number of State Department deaths and a testing question. The first is: Can you give us any more information about the employee, the third person who had died or what country that was in and any other information you can give us?

And second, does State currently have a standard policy on testing? Do – for example, people who think they may be – may have the virus but are not showing symptoms, are they able to get tested? What is the standard guidance on department employees getting tested? Thanks.

MR WALTERS: So as to the first question, I can tell you that it was a locally-employed staff member overseas. I don’t – can’t really go into any further detail because it becomes easier and easier to identify individual people when you do that, so I’m afraid I can’t.

With regard to testing, domestically we all exist within a broad public health architecture. From an occupational health perspective, we have a responsibility to protect the workforce, but we live within and work within the city of Washington, D.C., or in Virginia or Maryland, and ultimately testing and contact tracing is a local and state responsibility and authority. And so we cooperate very closely with the state and local and county public health teams to make sure that we keep the workforce safe and make sure testing is used appropriately.

QUESTION: Hi, there. Thanks. Sorry, I was – I missed part of the answer to Nick’s question because of Elmo, but – (laughter) – did you, Doc Walters, say that the third death was a locally employed staffer? And is it correct that there are still no American staffers overseas who have been —who have succumbed?

And then secondly, the – how many of the more than 400 flights that Ian is talking about were commercial flights that – for which the U.S. Government did not have to pay anything? Thank you.

MR WALTERS: Thanks, Matt. I can answer the first part and then I’ll hand over to Ian and DAS Yon for the last part.

Yeah, so locally employed staff member overseas – we are not aware of any chief of mission personnel overseas who have succumbed to the illness.

Folks, we hate to do this but this is a real pet peeve for us because. Very basic.  “We are not aware of any chief of mission personnel overseas who have succumbed to the illness?” The three Locally Employed (LE) staff members who died of COVID-19 are not chief of mission personnel? Good grief!
2 FAH-2 H-112.1 talks about Chief of Mission authority to direct, supervise, and coordinate all U.S. Government executive branch employees in the COM’s country or area of responsibility.  This includes U.S. Direct Hire (USDH) employees and Personal Service Contractors (PSCs), whether assigned permanently or on temporary duty or an official visit, and; all Locally Employed (LE) Staff regardless of hiring mechanism (whether a direct hire or hired on a PSA, PSC or other mechanism by the Department of State or another U.S. government agency – see 3 FAM 7121).

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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