WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his final major holiday party of the year Wednesday after his exposure to a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus forced him into quarantine, according to two officials familiar with the situation.
The decision caps a run of indoor holiday parties hosted by Pompeo, his wife, Susan, and his top aides that health experts and U.S. lawmakers warned could turn into superspreader events at a time when the novel coronavirus has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
The State Department has hosted hundreds of diplomats and dignitaries since last week for indoor gatherings with holiday music, drinks and photo lines that resulted in the type of close congregation and maskless situations that facilitate the airborne transmission of the virus through respiratory droplets.
Pompeo, one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal confidants, stood out among Cabinet officials for approving holiday events that disregarded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines against large indoor gatherings, while other departments such as the Pentagon switched to hosting virtual holiday functions.
The State Department told staffers Wednesday morning that a holiday party scheduled later in the evening for 180 foreign ambassadors, chiefs of mission and their spouses had been canceled. Foreign embassies, meanwhile, received guidance from the department that the party had been postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances,” according to people familiar with the situation.
A State Department spokesman did not disclose when Pompeo came into contact with someone with the virus, the person’s identity or whether the secretary of state showed any symptoms. The spokesman said Pompeo tested negative for the virus but will quarantine and be “closely monitored by the Department’s medical team.” Such monitoring is recommended because if a test is taken too quickly after exposure, it can result in a false negative.
Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal department matters.
The cancellation of Wednesday’s reception, first reported by CNN, marks the first time the department has reversed course about its party scheduling, though it is unclear whether the decision was made because of health concerns or the low turnout at a holiday party the previous day.
On Tuesday, a tiny fraction of the more than 900 guests invited to another Pompeo holiday event showed up. Pompeo was scheduled to give remarks at that gathering but canceled without explanation. He also was scheduled to record a holiday message to the State Department rank and file the same day; that, too, was canceled.
The department declined to respond to questions about the rationale behind the changes in his schedule.
Pompeo joins a growing list of senior Trump administration officials to have had contact with individuals who tested positive for the virus, including acting defense secretary Christopher Miller. About 50 people with close ties to the White House have tested positive for the virus, including the president, who was hospitalized in October weeks before the election.