WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. State Department employees have complained about the U.S. ambassador to South Africa’s failure to self-isolate immediately after returning from a U.S. visit when she attended a March 7 Mar-a-Lago event, some of whose attendees have tested positive for coronavirus, according to messages reviewed by Reuters.
Among those at the event were U.S. President Donald Trump, who has tested negative for the Covid-19 disease, and U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, who decided to quarantine himself after learning a Brazilian official there fell ill with it.
The State Department employees were worried the ambassador, Lana Marks, might infect her staff, personnel on a U.S. Navy ship she visited this week, and South Africans before she decided on Thursday to self-isolate.
“We are concerned (Marks) is endangering her staff and South Africans by having returned to South Africa and choosing to not self-quarantine after admitting to having attended an event with an individual who then tested positive for COVID-19 and knowing it before she returned to South Africa,” said one message.
Another said Marks told Pretoria embassy staff on Thursday she had attended the Mar-a-Lago event but minimized the chances of her exposure even as she decided to limit her contact.
“She described attendees at the same event had tested positive but thought that her risk to contract COVID-19 to be minimal based on the distance between the infected person and herself,” it said. “She then described how starting today she would limit her meetings to no more than 10 people.”
It was not clear why Marks, a political appointee and former fashion executive, limited her contacts on Thursday. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On her personal Twitter feed, Marks on Thursday said she had decided to quarantine herself but did not address why she did not do so earlier.
Marks on March 8 posted a photo with U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien against a backdrop matching a tapestry at Mar-a-Lago captioned “a wonderful evening last night.”
On March 16 she posted a photo of herself aboard the USS Carney with Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain in the background.
Ambassador Eric Rubin, head of the U.S. diplomat’s union, the American Foreign Service Association, said U.S. officials abroad deserved to have their health and safety protected.
“There is ... no excuse for putting people at risk,” he said without specifically addressing Marks’ case.
Additional Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Scott Malone and Diane Craft