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State Department contractor dies in NYC from COVID-19

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A contract employee with the State Department died in New York City of complications from COVID-19, the agency said on Friday, marking the first domestic death for the federal body.

The news comes in addition to at least three deaths among State Department staff overseas since the agency began tracking coronavirus cases last month. Information about which countries the staff members are from is not available.

The State Department is tracking at least 55 coronavirus cases among staff domestically and 258 cases overseas, according to William Walters, the deputy chief medical officer for operations.

“We extend our condolences to the employees and the families who’ve been affected by this virus, both those that have lost loved ones and those that are struggling in over 220 missions around the world,” Walters said in a briefing with reporters on Friday.

Approximately 75,000 staff work in 220 posts worldwide, although it’s unclear how many staff are serving overseas. The State Department announced authorized departures for medically vulnerable staff and those with families with health risks beginning in January, making it hard for the agency to provide an accurate tally of workers. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the U.S. consulate in Wuhan, China — the city believed to be the origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic — is effectively shut down, during an interview with the “Wendy Bell Show.”

“We had a consulate there and so we brought everyone out of that location. It was not someplace we could stay,” he said.

In Peru, U.S. Ambassador Krishna Urs departed last month for medical reasons. His repatriation flight also included medically vulnerable embassy staff and their family members, in addition to Peace Corps volunteers and stranded American travelers.

The State Department has not made public how many posts it has authorized employees to depart nor has it reported ordered departures.

Ian Brownlee, head of the State Department’s repatriation task force charged with bringing stranded American travelers back to the U.S., said repatriation efforts have been hampered by departure of embassy staff.

“We’re also facing a bit of an issue in some of these places in that our officers have been ordered out of the country or have availed themselves of the opportunity to depart the country because they have family members who are in vulnerable populations,” he said in a briefing with reporters March 25.

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