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Two positive COVID tests on trip with Secretary of State Antony Blinken were not disclosed

Three cases of COVID-19 upended Secretary of State Antony Blinken's multi-nation trip this week  — including two previously undisclosed cases among members of the Air Force flight crew. On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the additional two positive cases among its personnel in response to inquiries from CBS News.

"Both aircrew members were fully vaccinated. Neither had come into close contact with the Secretary of State or Senior Staff," said Air Force spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder.  "One air crew member is asymptomatic, while the other is experiencing mild symptoms."

At least one Air Force crew member tested positive for COVID-19 one day before a civilian passenger — a member of the traveling press corps — also tested positive and the trip was cut short, according to a senior State Department official. 

Ryder would not disclose the current location of the crew members but said both are outside the U.S. and following "host nation protocols." It is unclear if they received positive test results in the same country, but multiple people familiar with the situation tell CBS News at least one of the flight crew members tested positive in Indonesia. The journalist, who received a positive test result after leaving Indonesia and landing in Malaysia, remains there in isolation.

"We have nothing further to announce at this time," State Department Deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said during a Friday briefing when asked if anyone else on the trip, in addition to the member of the media, had tested positive for the virus.

The secretary's end of the year, round-the-world tour originally included stops in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Hawaii. But on Wednesday, after the secretary met with officials in Malaysia, his spokesperson Ned Price gave an on-the-record statement to traveling reporters that a journalist in their party had received a positive PCR test result. A subsequent written statement said the secretary would cancel meetings in Thailand and return to Washington out of "an abundance of caution." Neither statement mentioned the two positive test results among the crew.

"At no time on the trip were the Secretary or his senior staff deemed to be close contacts of anyone who tested positive for COVID-19," a State Department spokesperson said when asked about other positive cases on the plane. "Throughout the trip, we far exceeded CDC guidelines in terms of our testing and mitigation measures."

The State Department also said it increased social-distancing, limited in-flight food service and notified anyone in close contact within hours of "the identification of a positive case."  

"Every member of the traveling party was required to take at least 8 COVID-19 tests over the span of the 7-day trip," a spokesperson told CBS News, adding that all department staff have received negative PCR tests upon their return. 

But Department of Defense personnel are not subjected to the same rigorous testing regime, a State Department official with direct knowledge of the situation told CBS News. The official said military crews can also obtain waivers to avoid having to test in each country and are sometimes only tested at the beginning and end of trips.

"All Air Force aircrew members supporting overseas DV travel are tested before flights departing the U.S., on the ground in every country that requires testing, and upon returning to the United States," Ryder said when asked about testing protocols for the aircrew.

In addition to operating the equipment, Air Force crew members usually greet reporters and government officials as they board the government-owned Boeing jets, serve drinks and prepare food for passengers, including the secretary. The crew rest seats are in the same cabin as the press, near the back of the plane. Media outlets are later billed market rates for the flights and meals. 

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