WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus and will be quarantining although he has tested negative, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
“Secretary Pompeo has been identified as having come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. For reasons of privacy we can’t identify that individual,” a spokesperson for the State Department said.
“The secretary has been tested and is negative. In accordance with CDC guidelines, he will be in quarantine. He is being closely monitored by the department’s medical team.”
The State Department did not answer further queries about how or when Pompeo came into contact with the infected individual or whether he was displaying symptoms. He did not attend President Donald Trump’s cabinet meeting at the White House which took place earlier on Wednesday, a White House official said.
Diplomats said the State Department canceled a holiday reception for the foreign missions in Washington that was due to take place at the State Department later on Wednesday.
A close ally of Trump, Pompeo has come under criticism for going ahead with the planning of several holiday parties, defying guidelines from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which describes large in-person gatherings as “highest risk” for the spread of the disease.
The United States has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, with confirmed cases over 16.7 million and deaths over 305,000. Many states recently tightened their restrictions due to a rise in the cases.
The District of Columbia imposed stricter guidelines for restaurants, businesses and gatherings citing escalating community transmission across the nation’s capital. The latest guideline on the district’s website says indoor gatherings may not exceed 10 people.
President Donald Trump and his administration has been widely criticized for their consistently lax approach to mask-wearing and social distancing at the White House. Critics say his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been among the top reasons why he lost his Nov. 3 re-election bid to Democrat Joe Biden, due to take office on Jan. 20.
Trump himself was diagnosed with COVID-19 in October, while a large number of his staff, including some of his closest aides, have also tested positive and later recovered.
Separately, Washington Post reported that Pompeo canceled a speech he was due to give at another indoor holiday party that took place late on Tuesday and whose invites had been sent out to 900 people, drawing wide criticism.
Earlier this month, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez called on Pompeo to cancel the holiday parties to avoid “reckless health risk” to department employees and event staff.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Steve Holland and Pete Schroeder in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)