State Department Planning Holiday Parties for Hundreds of People Despite Coronavirus Surge

A spokesperson for the State Department tells PEOPLE that all attendees at the events "will be required to wear masks, and social distancing guidelines will be implemented to ensure space between attendees"

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo. Photo: Vesa Moilanen/REX

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly hosting a holiday party for nearly 1,000 people — despite the ongoing surge of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases across the country.

The State Department is planning a party with a 900-person guest list for December 15, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. The event, titled "Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays," according to a copy of an invitation obtained by the Post, is reportedly one of at least three upcoming gatherings hosted by the State Department.

A spokesperson for the State Department tells PEOPLE that all attendees at the events "will be required to wear masks, and social distancing guidelines will be implemented to ensure space between attendees."

People will have their temperatures checked with forehead scanning machines at the entrance to all of the events, "in addition to numerous hand-sanitizing towers throughout the spaces," the spokesperson says, adding that "all proper food and beverage safety precautions will be taken by catering services and staff – all will wear gloves and masks and any food or beverage will be served individually."

Emails will be sent to confirmed guests ahead of time with "health and safety precautions," and they will be asked to stay home "if they’re feeling any COVID symptoms or if they’ve come into close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days, per the CDC guidelines, and as is standard Department policy," the spokesperson says.

Pompeo is hosting another reception on December 16, and Chief of Protocol Cam Henderson is also hosting an open house event this month for the Washington diplomatic corp, according to the Post.

"We’ve taken every precaution to thin out the number of individuals in all spaces at one time, and plan to keep outdoors space open and available to attendees, weather permitting," the spokesperson tells PEOPLE.

"The Diplomatic Corps will be spread into three separate blocks of time for entrance into the White House and Blair House in an effort to keep them spaced and socially distant, and again that precaution was taken for the Department’s Diplomatic Corps Reception by splitting the event into two," the spokesperson adds. "We do not anticipate any problems in monitoring the number of individuals in these indoor spaces or exceeded the allotted numbers for indoor gatherings, per the Diplomacy Strong 'Phase 2' guidelines."

Despite these precautions, indoor gatherings with people outside of your own household have been cited by health officials as one of the most dangerous activities most likely to spread the virus.

CNN reported that the parties come after State Department employees were told not to host their own holiday gatherings.

Health officials have been warning that the holiday season and winter months will be particularly difficult when it comes to the pandemic; cases and deaths have been on the rise across the country for weeks, and many hospitals are nearing capacity.

"We likely will have an increase in cases as we get into the colder weeks of winter and as we approach the Christmas season," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with ABC's This Week over the weekend.

"And perhaps even two or three weeks down the line, we may see a surge upon a surge," he added. "We don't want to frighten people, but that's just the reality."

On Wednesday, at least 2,760 people were reported dead from the contagious respiratory virus — the most deaths in one day from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the New York Times reported. It's a close number to the last peak in April, which saw 2,752 dead in one day from the virus.

There have been more than 13.9 million people infected with the virus in the U.S., according to data from the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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