COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update)

 

We originally created a tracker for COVID-19 cases for the State Department and our Foreign Service posts on March 21. We updated that post on March 22. (See Tracking COVID-19 Cases at State Department and Foreign Service Posts (Updated)).
Since Pompeo’s quip at a presser on March 17  that “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests” we still don’t have official breakdown of numbers as to how many employees and family members have actually been infected, how many have recovered from the virus, or even how many were tested, or how many have been medically evacuated for COVID-19.
The last couple of days even with Senior State Department officials doing their “Special Briefing”, we still don’t have a good official count on numbers and places where there are positive, suspected, or quarantined staffers/family members due to COVID-19 cases.
On March 23, SSDO said:

“So the domestic numbers are easier to quantify just based on communications with posts abroad.  Obviously, this is a rapidly evolving situation, especially in the overseas environment. 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. Obviously, the – this type of outbreak, had we known earlier what the epidemiology was and had some of that data, perhaps we would have a better feel for how this was going to move across our overseas posts.  But we are keeping pace with it.  And again, the number at this point is less than 30.” 

In our updated COVID-19 tracker we are noting this info as “fuzzy math.”
On March 24, the SSDO was asked “out of the approximately 40 or so cases of COVID-positive people that you’ve got at State, how many are FSOs and how many are local staff?”.  SSDO responded:

“In terms of the cases that we’re following from the State Department’s perspective, I don’t have the precise breakdown in front of me of how many of our direct-hire employees versus local staff.  I certainly can get that information.  But again, it changes so rapidly that it’s – we just want to focus on the fact that we’re doing everything we can to take care of our people overseas, and for our local staff who are so important to our operations do what we can to facilitate their getting care in the local economy. ” 

On March 25, Dr. William Walters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations was one of the briefers and said:

So it’s important to remember that the State Department is about 75,000 – a 75,000-person workforce overseas. We’re tracking 58 current cases in our overseas workforce, spread across the – each – one to 11 cases – I’m sorry, 33 cases is the largest number in any particular regional bureau. But at 58 cases, that’s less than one in 1,000, and that’s a direct result of aggressive actions through the Bureau of Medical Services, through the chiefs of mission at post, and implementing social distancing and telework and all the things that the department has been working so hard at over the past several weeks. Domestically, we’re tracking 16 cases in five cities, the largest at just eight. So that’s 16 cases across thousands of employees. Again, the department has taken this very seriously, has implemented just the right non-pharmaceutical interventions to keep that workforce safe.

Tracker is not embeddable right now, so the links do not work; however, we have links as reference and can post separately, as needed.  The newest addition in the update below includes the cases in Madrid, which we were originally informed were 6 positive cases, and now are at reportedly 16 positive cases. Also includes the fuzzy accounting from the March 24 briefing on domestic cases, and the presumptive positive case at SA-1 per internal email on the night of March 24. After we updated the tracker, we saw the March 25 briefing with MED”s Walters and CA’s Brownlee. Walter mentions “tracking 58 current cases” with 33 cases as the highest in one unnamed regional bureau, plus 16 cases in five unidentified cities domestically (3/23 briefing notes six cities).
We think that the fuzziness is intentional. It is very likely that MED (perhaps even Ops) has detailed trackers internal to those offices and could provide a straight-forward breakdown like DOD, if they want to. We’re hearing complaints of “no central info on cases department wide”. As of March 25, based on official briefers, domestic cases went from single digits on 3/23 to 16 domestically; and less than 30 on 3/23 to 58 overseas.

 

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@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?

“On Background” Senior State Department Official Outs Self During Special Briefing

Posted: 5:18  pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The State Department announced that it will will host, GLACIER, “an important conference in Anchorage, Alaska on August 30-31 that will focus the world’s attention on the most urgent issues facing the Arctic today.”

GLACIER stands for Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, & Resilience and “will be a global conversation” convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It will reportedly include senior U.S. Government officials and representatives from seven other Arctic nations as well as Arctic experts from the global scientific and policy communities, public and private sector representatives, and Alaskan State, local and indigenous leadership. The conference expects delegations from around 20 countries and about 450 participants.

As a prelude to the event starting Sunday, the State Department held a Special Briefing via teleconference with a senior State Department official. It also issued an “important reminder” that this was an “on-background call, so [Senior State Department Official] should be referred to as a senior State Department official going forward” and asked attendees to “appreciate that courtesy professionally.” “On background” usually means that a reporter can use the information you give them, but cannot name or quote you directly.

Excerpt below from the Senior State Department Official.:

The excitement and momentum are building here in Anchorage as we approach the GLACIER conference. I’ve been here, I think, as I said, since Monday, and have been involved with one other conference, the Alaskan Arctic Conference, which was organized by former Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who is currently the president of Pt Capital, and Alice Rogoff, who owns the Alaska Dispatch News. I spoke at that conference on Tuesday to wrap that up. And over the intervening days, I’ve had an opportunity to meet with the mayor, the governor, and other senior officials here in Alaska. I visited the University of Alaska; I traveled down to Seward, Alaska to the Alaska SeaLife Center; and also took a walk out to, most appropriately, the Exit Glacier since we’re here for the GLACIER conference. It was a special treat to go out there not just to see the glacier and the beauty of the Alaska countryside, but also to see the dramatic changes that have occurred over the years, particularly looking at pictures and the geography out there on how that particular glacier has receded, and particularly over the last couple of decades.

Senior State Department official hikes Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska, August 2015 (Photo via DipNote)

So it’s a great scene setter for me. I returned to Anchorage yesterday after the seward trip. I met with a series of people, including students at the University of Alaska. Today, I’ll be going out to Alaska Command to talk about our U.S. leadership efforts in the Arctic Council, doing a couple of interviews both on TV and with the press, and most importantly, speaking to all of you today.

GLACIER is going to be a historic event. The media outlets up here have been promoting not just the conference, but in particular, the fact that our final speaker on Monday will be the President of the United States. Even beyond that, he is coming in for the GLACIER conference, but I think as everybody knows now, he’s going to spend some time in Alaska and he will be the first president – the first sitting president to visit the American Arctic, going above the Arctic Circle here in Alaska.

We have a jam-packed day on Monday. There’ll be an opening plenary session with senior officials, leadership from Alaska and Alaska native groups speaking to the entire session. Secretary Kerry, Dr. John Holdren, the science advisor to the President will speak, and then the ministers will be involved in a track for the remainder of the day covering various topics, talking about the challenges in the Arctic. And the other participants – the 300 or so other participants in addition to the delegations will be broken down into two separate tracks which will cover various issues throughout the day as well. Everybody’s brought back together at the end of the day for the final plenary session, at which time we’ll have the President speak to us and we’re all, as I said, very excited about that.

This is obviously a very significant event for Alaska, but I think it’s also a significant event for the world. Whenever the United States gets involved in a project, whenever the United States puts its focus on problems or issues, there is usually action that occurs. And as an individual, as an American, as a retired Coast Guardsman, an employee of the State Department, I could not be more excited that we are now gaining this focus on our Arctic challenges all brought together here in this wonderful conference that’s going to occur on Monday.

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According to his brief bio, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., USCG (Ret.) became the U.S. State Department’s special representative for the Arctic in July of 2014. Prior to his appointment, Papp served as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and led the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security. We are aware of no other Senior State Department official who also previously served as a retired Coast Guardsman.

Why the State Department find it necessary to have a special briefing on background with its special representative for the Arctic is perplexing. We’ve come up with zero bucket for reasons. Anybody out there understand the why here, please share.

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