Traditionally a time for Republicans to express their hopes of political ascendancy and fears of tech and immigration, the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference has become quite the mess for a party that is hoping to dampen concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the United States. After conference guest and former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney dismissed coverage of the outbreak as an attempt to “bring down” the president, CPAC announced that an attendee had tested positive for COVID-19.
“This attendee had no interaction with the president or the vice-president and never attended the events in the main hall,” the organization claimed. The man did, however, come into close quarters with Georgia Representative Doug Collins, who announced on Monday that he would self-quarantine after “CPAC discovered a photo of myself and the patient who tested positive for coronavirus.” Less than a week after the picture was taken, the House Judiciary ranking member was shaking hands with President Trump at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Collins will remain isolated in his home until it has been 14 days since the initial exposure. (It was not announced which day Collins took the picture with the attendee.) On Monday, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz announced he would also enter self-quarantine after coming into contact with the CPAC attendee 11 days ago. Gaetz — who was criticized for mocking the importance of the virus when he wore a gas mask on the House floor to vote on the emergency spending bill — was reportedly on Air Force One an hour before announcing the exposure. According to the New York Times, Gaetz learned that he had been in touch with the infected man while on the flight and sat in the back of the plane alone.
Though neither is experiencing symptoms, the single degree of separation from the president is concerning for a grab bag of reasons: the coronavirus’s disastrous effects on patients his age; the sheer number of people Trump meets with on a daily basis; how many other members of his political circle may have come into contact with the infected person at CPAC; and the political and economic ramifications of the possibility of a president under quarantine. (On Monday night, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham announced Trump had not been tested for coronavirus, as he does not have symptoms and has had no “prolonged close contact” with coronavirus patients.) Also on Monday, Trump’s incoming chief of staff Mark Meadows announced he would self-quarantine.
Prior to Gaetz’s and Collins’s announcements, President Trump said he was “not concerned at all” about the possibility of exposure from the CPAC attendee. Other Republican leaders who did have direct contact with the patient expressed more caution: On Sunday, Ted Cruz and Arizona Representative Paul Gosar announced they would self-quarantine after interacting with the man at CPAC. (CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp, who also shook Trump’s hand, was exposed to the attendee as well, though the timeline is uncertain.) By Monday, the isolation appeared to be getting to Gosar: