Only a tiny fraction of the more than 900 guests invited to an indoor holiday party hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan showed up on Tuesday following an outcry from public health officials and U.S. lawmakers warning that the reception bore all the hallmarks of a superspreader event, said two U.S. officials familiar with the event.

Pompeo, whose name was on the invitation and who was scheduled to speak at the event, canceled his speech and tapped a substitute speaker, said the two officials. The event was dedicated to the family members of diplomats serving overseas in dangerous postings that require them to leave their spouses and children behind, such as in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The State Department did not respond to questions about why Pompeo canceled the speech and whether it was due to his own health concerns about holding a large indoor event.

About 70 people RSVP’d for the event as of Monday night and even fewer showed up as the Trump administration’s own health officials warned Americans to limit travel and avoid large indoor gatherings amid a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

The event featured drinks, boxed meals and a masked Santa who walked around from table to table to chitchat with adults and children, according to the two officials and photographs taken during the event obtained by The Washington Post.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal department matters.

The State Department said masks would be required for attendance and it would enforce social distancing guidelines. But photos of the event showed attendees removing masks to eat food and drinks atop plaid tablecloths. The ornate reception room was decorated with towering Christmas trees, fresh poinsettias and red-and-green-wrapped presents.

Health experts expect coronavirus to become endemic, existing permanently in the population. This is due to human behavior continuing to drive transmission. (John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Two invitees expressed disappointment about the event, saying it put at risk diplomats, their families and the staff involved in putting on the event. One spouse of a diplomat said she declined the invitation because her husband was serving abroad and if she had attended and gotten sick, no one would have been able to take care of their children.

“It was a completely irresponsible party to throw,” said the woman.

In past years, the event has drawn crowds of 200 to 300 people. The decision to hold the event came despite objections from some members of Congress, including the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called on Pompeo to cancel the party and others the department held last week.

“I am concerned that these parties pose a significant health risk, not only to attendees, but to the employees and workers who must staff these events, as well as to State Department employees who may feel pressured to attend,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a letter addressed to Pompeo earlier this month.

The parties have also prompted criticism from the American Foreign Service Association, a nonpartisan union that represents diplomats, which issued a statement this month calling on the department to “reverse course and model responsible behavior in accordance with its own guidelines.”

The union noted that the department’s leaders have urged embassies and consulates around the world to host only virtual holiday gatherings this year. “It is therefore disconcerting to hear of these plans, which not only go against the Department’s own guidelines but also health regulations in Washington, D.C., and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the union said.