Staffers for the Conservative Political Action Conference have reached out to over 100 people who may have come into contact with an individual who tested positive for coronavirus after attending the annual summit at the end of February, Fox News has learned.
The steps are part of a behind-the-scenes scramble to respond to the development that has rattled an already-shaken Washington. As the Trump administration and lawmakers scrounge up funding, plan for a national health care response, and grapple with the prospect of a public panic on top of financial market chaos, the presence of a virus-infected individual at the premier conservative gathering only added to an epic logistical challenge.
The top levels of government on the GOP side – President Trump, Vice President Pence, cabinet officials, top-ranking lawmakers – were in attendance. Staffers quickly worked to figure out who may have come in contact with the still-unnamed person. These discussions so far have led to several lawmakers going into self-quarantine as a precaution, amid assurances from organizers that nobody else has yet gotten sick from this individual.
But those unusual announcements are just a window into the ongoing efforts to trace potential exposure. Coronavirus patients attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington last week led to similar concerns, though not quite to this degree.
A senior CPAC staffer told Fox News on Tuesday that they and members of their team have been in touch with more than 100 attendees — in addition to the “several” lawmakers known to have interacted with the individual.
The infected attendee, who reports indicate is a New York City-based doctor, is currently in a hospital in Englewood, N.J. CPAC would not share or confirm the identity of the individual. New Jersey officials on Tuesday announced the state’s first novel coronavirus-related death, but Fox News is told this is not the same individual who attended CPAC.
The senior CPAC staffer told Fox News that they have been in regular contact with the individual, as well as his brother, to learn of his condition, and find out if he remembers coming into contact with any additional attendees.
The staffer told Fox News that CPAC organizers had asked for the attendee’s phone to go through themselves, but were denied. Nevertheless, they’re using the brother as an intermediary to learn more about his contacts. On Monday, the individual’s brother shared with CPAC staffers that he had gone through the phone and uncovered a photo of him with Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga. – who is now in self-quarantine, along with several other lawmakers who came into contact with the patient.
A spokesperson for Collins confirmed that Matt Schlapp – chairman of CPAC host the American Conservative Union – contacted the congressman to notify him of the uncovered photo.
On Monday, the attending physician for Congress said in a statement that the sick attendee, who was able to recall the majority of individuals he interacted with, came into contact with “several” members of Congress. The list of lawmakers going into self-quarantine, as a result, has grown by the day.
At this time, Schlapp, Collins, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and now-acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are in self-quarantine “out of an abundance of caution” after being notified by CPAC organizers that they came into contact with the ill attendee. Three senior members of Gosar’s staff are also self-quarantined. None of the lawmakers, or staffers, are known to be experiencing coronavirus symptoms at this time.
The response has fed complaints – including from some in the media – that only high-powered officials are getting to learn whether they were at risk of exposure.
But the CPAC staffer told Fox News that not only have they sent mass emails to all attendees of the annual conference and contacted certain lawmakers, but they’ve contacted dozens of people who are not elected officials – as well as members of the media who were covering the event.
Meanwhile, the chain of events has fed speculation about whether Trump himself was at risk, as both the president and Pence attended and spoke at the conference. The White House said there is no indication that Trump or Pence was in close proximity to the stricken attendee.
The president did, however, spend time with Collins and Gaetz since CPAC. Collins shook Trump’s hand and joined him for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., on Friday. He also met with Trump at the White House last week, several days after the Feb. 26-29 conference.
Gaetz was spotted riding on Air Force One on Monday as he learned the news. White House officials said when Gaetz learned he was in proximity to the man with coronavirus at CPAC, he sat by himself in a section of the president’s plane.
“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year,” Trump tweeted Monday. “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
According to the CDC, during the 2018-2019 flu season in the U.S., an estimated 35.5 million people were sick with influenza and approximately 34,200 people died from the illness.