Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has one day remaining in his self-quarantine after learning he came into contact with an individual who had coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland at the end of February. Gaetz spoke to The Spectator over the phone from his condo in Florida about the events leading up to his quarantine and how he’s trying to stay productive during his lockdown.
‘I’m on calls with my staff, I’m doing a radio interview a little bit later, I think I might be doing a phone interview on television a little bit later, so I’m doing all the things I would normally do, just from my house,’ Gaetz said when asked about how his work schedule may have changed because of the quarantine.
The Florida congressman, who has tested negative for Covid-19, first discovered he may have been infected with the virus on Monday as he was boarding Air Force One to return to Washington, DC from Florida. He was not initially contacted by CPAC organizers, who promised they would reach out to anyone who was confirmed to have had contact with the infected individual at the conference after they discovered his diagnosis the following Saturday.
‘I was operating under this false sense of security, right? So, oh, go to Mar-a-Lago, I interacted with our president, I interacted with the Brazilian president, I was at the head table with the whole first family during Kimberly Guilfoyle’s birthday party, I spent most of the weekend spending time with members of the first family,’ Gaetz recalled.
Gaetz’s staff later reached out to CPAC themselves after discovering that this individual may have been in or around the green room backstage around the same time Gaetz was set to speak on February 27.
‘When I saw Raheem Kassam’s tweets, it seemed Raheem had really pieced together the improbability of this person not being in the green room or in some of the areas where I was,’ Gaetz explained. ‘[CPAC] put on a great event and how are they supposed to know that one person showed up infected, but also I don’t think CPAC should be throwing shade at Raheem for doing the reporting that caused me to ask questions which resulted in my getting tested.’
CPAC initially told Gaetz’s staff that he was in the clear, but two hours later they discovered a photo of Gaetz and the infected attendee on the attendees’ phone.
‘You can only imagine my sinking feeling when, as Air Force One was taking off, the last message I get is from my chief of staff telling me they went through this guy’s phone and they found where I had taken a picture with him,’ Gaetz explained. ‘And that really concerned me because in the picture I was holding the guy’s phone. I might as well have licked his toilet seat.’
As has been reported, Gaetz removed himself to a room in the back of Air Force One and avoided having further contact with other individuals, including the president. Upon landing in Washington, DC, Gaetz was driven to Walter Reed Hospital to undergo testing for coronavirus.
‘I never got out of the car,’ he said. ‘A health professional came and stuck a few wires with Q-tips at the end of them up my nose and it was done in a matter of minutes. Obviously no one wanted to bring me inside of a healthcare facility where people are medically frail.’
The congressman got into another car as quickly as possible so he could make the 15-hour drive back to Florida and self-quarantine in his condo, as he does not have his own place in DC. When he got tired part of the way through the trip, Gaetz pulled into a Walmart parking lot to sleep rather than risk staying in a hotel.
Gaetz said, ‘I sleep on the floor of my office. So when I got the diagnosis in Washington, I certainly wasn’t going to go to the Capitol. That place spreads ailments very quickly because everyone’s in close proximity.
‘You can’t exactly call a friend and ask them to come over and hang out during your coronavirus quarantine, so I just got in the car and, you know, when I had to sleep for a little bit on that 15-hour drive I just pulled over at a Walmart parking lot and slept for a little bit and kept going.’
CPAC has since sent out further information to attendees about which events the infected individual attended and what areas of the conference he trafficked.
Gaetz was chastised by the media for wearing a gas mask on the House floor while discussing coronavirus last week, and critics suggested his encounter with a coronavirus carrier was karmic retribution for making light of the health crisis.
‘I never made light of it. Who is it that believes they can ascribe motives to me? I gave contemporaneous statements with the wearing of that gas mask on the floor that fully outlined my basis for doing so,’ Gaetz said. ‘Members of Congress travel through the dirtiest airports, we touch everyone we meet, and we take a lot of selfies with people’s phones. If anything, I regret not taking more of my own advice.’
He continued, ‘I certainly don’t regret wearing it — if anything I should have worn it at CPAC. What I think is so Washington is the notion that reporters believe that they have the agency to ascribe motives to me when I am saying the opposite.’
Gaetz did not speculate as to whether President Trump should suspend his rallies in light of Sen. Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden canceling their respective rallies in Cleveland, Ohio, but did indicate that he intends to change his own personal behavior to try to stem the spread of COVID-19:
‘I’m not a public health professional so I’m not going to give advice to the presidential campaigns on how they should operate, but I do know that I’m going to modify my personal habits. When I go places I’m usually the last one in the room taking pictures until every attendee has been satisfied, whether that’s CPAC, a town hall meeting, or a whirl through the Trump Hotel lobby. I don’t say no to anybody that wants a handshake, a hug, or a picture because it is something that can bring a tremendous amount of joy to someone with very little sacrifice. And as politicians, if you can bring someone joy that costs you nothing, we are hardwired to do that. I am probably going to lay off the hugs and handshakes and selfies for a while after hearing what Dr Fauci has said about personal contact facilitating the spread of this virus.’