The Corner

Politics & Policy

What We Know about CPAC’s Coronavirus Response

People arrive at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., February 27, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

There has been significant confusion in recent days surrounding the response of the Conservative Political Action Conference to the news that a coronavirus carrier was among the thousands of activists, journalists, politicians, and onlookers who gathered at the Gaylord National Hotel in Maryland late last month.

Given the attendance of high-profile lawmakers — some of whom interact regularly with the president — and the size of the conference (attendance numbered in the thousands) there was an outpouring of concern when CPAC announced on Saturday, March 7, that an attendee, whom they have refused to identify, tested positive for coronavirus.

American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who organizes the annual conference, sought to reassure conference-goers, writing on Twitter last Monday that “the State of Maryland did 2,000 screenings around the Gaylord and found nothing concerning.”

Schlapp repeated that message during a Thursday night appearance on Fox News’ The Laura Ingraham Show.

“They did 2,000 screens all around the hotel,” Schlapp said via Skype from his home, where he was self-quarantining due to his exposure to the infected attendee. “They found nothing. . . . Several days ago they came to us and said there’s nothing to be alarmed about.”

But a spokeswoman for Marriott, which runs the Gaylord National hotel in National Harbor, Md., told CNBC that the hotel was not aware of any tests having been conducted during or after the February 29 conference.

ACU spokesman Ian Walters has since told National Review that Schlapp’s claim that “2,000 screenings” were conducted by health officials — and the hotel’s subsequent denials — were the product of a miscommunication between the Maryland Department of Health and the ACU.

Walters said that ACU chairman Dan Schneider was informed by Maryland health official Ruth Thompson last Sunday, March 8, that state workers had conducted 2,000 screenings around the hotel in the wake of CPAC. Schneider relayed that information to Schlapp, who shared it on Twitter and television — but that claim turned out to be false.

In fact, Maryland health workers did not conduct any tests, and Thompson, who serves as deputy director of Maryland’s Infections Disease Epidemiology & Outbreak Response Bureau, misrepresented the so-called screenings, as well as who conducted them, according to Walters. Thompson did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health would not comment beyond reiterating that no state workers performed screenings at the hotel.

Once Schlapp’s claims were challenged by the hotel, Walters reached out to Thompson on Tuesday, and she corrected the record, informing him that Gaylord Hotel employees — not state health workers — conducted 2,000 so-called “stand ups” exclusively on other hotel employees in the days following the conference. All hotel employees were summoned to a staff-wide meeting and visual “stand up” evaluations were conducted on each individual as they entered the meeting to determine whether they had noticeable symptoms.

Attendance was also taken at the meeting to ensure all employees were present. According to Walters’s description of his conversations with hotel staff, all employees were present and accounted for, and none were symptomatic.

The Gaylord Hotel did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding whether the visual evaluations on hotel employees were conducted by a medical professional.

Schlapp was referring to those cursory visual evaluations when he made the operative claim in his tweet and later on Ingraham’s program. In comments to National Review on Friday, three days after learning that hotel employees conducted the evaluations on their own colleagues, Schlapp said that he was simply relaying what he was told by health officials and continued to insist that the tests were “widespread.”

Rank-and-file conference attendees have complained, on Twitter and elsewhere, that CPAC failed to reach out to tell them who the infected attendee was and whether they likely had contact with the person. Walters strenuously denied the accusation that CPAC prioritized transparency with congressmen and other VIPs while ignoring ordinary conference-goers. He told National Review that 20 staffers were assigned last Sunday — just one day after news broke that an attendee had tested positive — to call some 100 people who were believed to have been in the same room as the infected individual.

Walters praised state health workers and Gaylord Hotel employees for their response. “Our collective efforts prevented the unintentional spread of the virus,” he said. He also stressed that the 14-day window required for symptoms to emerge has closed and no other attendees have reported testing positive.

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