Just a few of the more than 900 invitees to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s indoor holiday party showed up on Tuesday following a flood criticism that the event could become a superspreader for coronavirus, the Washington Post reported late Tuesday.
Public health officials and lawmakers had been warning for weeks that the indoor event, with a long list of invitees and a reception where eating and drink would encourage the removal of face masks, was an invitation to another less welcome guest — coronavirus infection.
About 70 people RSVP’d for the event dedicated to the family members of diplomats serving overseas in dangerous postings as of Monday night and just a fraction of that group showed up, the Post said.
Pompeo, who was scheduled to speak at the event, canceled his speech and tapped a substitute, two officials told the Post.
It was unclear if Pompeo had cancelled his remarks due to his own health concerns or for another reason, but the event was just one of the parties Pompeo has been planning for the holiday season according to an earlier report.
While the State Department had rebuffed criticism of the gathering, saying masks would be required for attendance and it would enforce social distancing guidelines, photos documenting the festivities showed attendees removing masks to eat boxed meals and sip drinks. A masked Santa also mingled at tables engaging with guests, officials told the Post.
The gathering defied guidance from health officials from within the Trump administration who have been discouraging Americans from travel and from hosting large indoor gatherings as the United States continues to combat coronavirus which has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States.
Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) had urged Pompeo to cancel the party and other in-person gatherings amid health risks to attendees and those working at the event, noting its hypocrisy in a letter to the Secretary of State.
The American Foreign Service Association also issued a statement in recent weeks calling on the department to “reverse course and model responsible behavior in accordance with its own guidelines.”
The nonpartisan union which represents diplomats, referred to recommendations from the agency’s own leaders that told embassies to hold only virtual gatherings to close the year amid the ongoing public health crisis.