Pompeo returns to office after exposure as State Dept. 'regressing' to stricter COVID measures
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned to the office Monday after being quarantined because he was exposed to someone who tested positive for coronavirus, according to two State Department sources.
His return after less than a week of quarantine may be against the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although this is unclear as little is known about when he was exposed and how often he was tested.
The State Department has not responded to several questions on the matter since last week.
The agency is "backing down" on its COVID-19 security plans for the Washington, DC area, according to an email from a senior US State Department official received by ABC News.
MORE: Pompeo in quarantine after COVID exposure
With the spread of the virus, offices in the capital returned to stricter COVID regulations, including "maximum" teleworking, "only business-critical movements" and restrictions on "gathering sizes". Less than a week ago, the department hosted a holiday reception that, despite CDC guidelines, invited hundreds against large indoor gatherings even though Pompeo was absent.
PHOTO: Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo dons his mask after speaking to the press ahead of the meeting with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah at the State Department in Washington on November 24, 2020. (Saul Loeb / Pool / AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
"In accordance with CDC guidelines," Pompeo was in quarantine last Wednesday, according to a State Department spokesman who said he "came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID" - without specifying when or Where.
According to CDC guidelines, anyone exposed to coronavirus "should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with someone with COVID-19." However, this time can be shortened to seven days after a negative test result is obtained (the test must be done on the 5th day or later).
MORE: Despite pandemic, Pompeo invites hundreds to holiday celebrations at the Ministry of the Interior
The State Department has refused to provide any further details, including when Pompeo was exposed or when it was tested.
In any case, returning to the office on Monday doesn't seem to fulfill that seven-day window. The ministry's public schedule, released Monday morning, says that he will "attend meetings and briefings at the State Department," which, according to one source, included some face-to-face meetings with his staff and with foreign ambassadors.
According to the second source, more face-to-face meetings are planned for Tuesday, including with Israel's ambassador to the United States.
Last Tuesday, the department hosted a holiday reception for families of U.S. diplomats who worked in unaccompanied positions where it is too dangerous to bring a spouse or children. An annual tradition for the agency, invitations are typically sent out to hundreds of people while far fewer are actually present due to travel.
Despite the pandemic and the increase in cases in the DC area, the agency invited hundreds of people, two State Department sources told ABC News earlier this month. However, only dozens of people attended, and Pompeo himself made no comments despite a scheduled appearance.
PHOTO: United States chief of protocol Cam Henderson leaves the State Department in Washington on Nov. 9, 2020 after a meeting between Ecuadorian Secretary of State Luis Gallegos and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE)
MORE: Pompeo is pushing business as usual on his world tour as the State Dept. blocked the transition from Biden
A week earlier, acting state chief of protocol, Cam Henderson, held a similar reception for foreign ambassadors, their spouses and other VIP guests at the Blair House presidential home. A third reception for foreign ambassadors in the department was canceled last Wednesday.
Together, the series of holiday receptions generated a wave of criticism, including from lawmakers and the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), calling for Pompeo to cancel.
"It reflects that my-way-or-the-highway approach that defined his leadership role at State, and it's a symbol of his unwillingness to listen to his own advisors, the experts who say that this is either a bad idea or is against the rules, "said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official. "His answer always seems to be, by default, 'I don't care.'"
PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 10, 2020 (Jacquelyn Martin / Pool / AFP via Getty Images, FILE).
Less than a week after receiving the tour unaccompanied, the department announced on Monday that it is reintroducing stricter COVID guidelines after a surge in cases in the DC area.
In an email to staff received from ABC News, Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao said the department is "officially going back into phase 1" of its COVID strategy. This means that employee travel is restricted to "only business-critical movements", offices must allow "maximum teleworking" and visitors and gatherings must be restricted.
The re-imposed restrictions will last at least until Jan. 18, Bulatao said.
MORE: fear, anger, while the State Dept. continues to reopen despite the infection rate in the region
In the last month alone, 10 US embassies or consulates around the world have similarly "declined" due to spikes in COVID cases in that country, while 65% are in Phase 2, which allows small gatherings, and according to Bulatao up to 80 percent of employees can go back to work personally.
The department had moved its offices in the DC area to phase 2 in late July, despite concerns from some officials and the AFSA about forcing people to work early.
Pompeo returns to office after being announced as State Dept. "backing down" on stricter COVID measures originally posted on abcnews.go.com
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