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4 Republicans, Trump's Chief of Staff self-quarantine over COVID-19 fears

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and President Donald Trump's next chief of staff, makes remarks during a Conservative Political Action Conference session late February, an event where he interacted with a person now-confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI
Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and President Donald Trump's next chief of staff, makes remarks during a Conservative Political Action Conference session late February, an event where he interacted with a person now-confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

March 8 (UPI) -- Five Republican lawmakers including President Donald Trump's incoming chief of staff said Monday they have quarantined themselves after coming into contact with a guest who tested positive for COVID-19 at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who was tapped Friday by Trump to be his incoming chief of staff, has self-isolated himself at home despite having been tested negative for the deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 4,000 people worldwide, Ben Williamson, Meadows' chief of staff and communications, said in a statement.

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"While he's experiencing zero symptoms, under doctors' standard precautionary recommendations, he'll remain at home until the 14-day period expires this Wednesday," Williamson said.

The extent of Meadows' interaction with the confirmed case at CPAC, which ran from Feb. 26 to 29, was not detailed other than it occurred 12 days ago.

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The announcement of Meadows' self-isolation follows that of several others on Monday who attended CPAC, which, according to its website, is the largest and "most influential" conservative gathering in the world.

The American Conservative Union, which hosted the conference, announced Sunday a CPAC attendee had tested positive the day prior for COVID-19 and had contracted the virus prior to attending the conference held in Maryland.

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President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended this year's conference but neither came into contact with the infected guest, the ACU said.

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The White House said in a statement late Monday that Trump has not been tested for the infectious coronavirus as he has "neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms."

"President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to closely monitor him," said Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary.

The statement followed reporters asking Vice President Mike Pence whether he or Trump had been tested for the virus after having attended the event and potentially having come into contact with the infected attendee or others who had.

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"I have not been tested for the coronavirus," Pence told reporters during a press briefing by the Coronavirus Task Force.

He added that he didn't know if Trump had been tested.

On Saturday, Trump told reporters that campaign rallies will continue despite growing fears of the virus spreading among large gatherings.

Asked if he is worried about the coronavirus getting near the White House, Trump said, "I'm not concerned."

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Earlier Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Paul Gosar, Rep. Doug Collins and Rep. Matt Gaetz separately announced that they have all been quarantined due to having interacted with the confirmed case at the conservative event.

Cruz, the Republican senator for Texas, said in a statement that he is not experiencing symptoms and feels healthy, but "out of an abundance of caution" will quarantine himself at his Texas home for the remainder of the coronavirus' 14-day incubation period from when he interacted with the now-symptomatic guest at the conservative conference that ran from Feb. 26 to 29.

Cruz said the interaction with the conference guest lasted less than a minute about 10 days ago and consisted of "a brief conversation and a handshake."

Gosar, the Republican congressman for Arizona, said in a separate statement that followed Cruz's that he and his staff had come into contact with a guest who has since been hospitalized with COVID-19. It is unclear if Gosar and Cruz were referring to the same unnamed conference attendee.

"I was with the individual for an extended period of time and we shook hands several times," Gosar said, adding neither he nor any of his staff is experiencing symptoms. "However, in order to prevent any potential transmission, I will remain at my home in Arizona until the conclusion of the 14-day period following my interaction with this individual."

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He also said his office in Washington, D.C., will be closed for the week "out of an abundance of caution" and his staff will be telecommuting instead.

Collins, a Georgian lawmaker, said he was notified by CPAC after a photo surfaced of him and the patient while Gaetz, a lawmaker for Florida, said his interaction occurred 11 days ago. Both have also placed themselves in self-isolation.

Meanwhile, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who came into contact with the infected guest during CPAC, said he will not be quarantining himself following consultations over the weekend with "a top CDC physician."

"I took the advice of the expert and returned to work," Gohmert said in a statement. "No one is panicking and we are observing the recommended precautions."

News of the CPAC infection came days after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee announced attendees to its policy conference last week may have come into contact with a person infected with the virus.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in China in December, there have been more than 4,000 deaths and 113,000 cases worldwide, including 21 fatalities in the United States and more than 500 cases of the disease.

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In a statement on Sunday, ACU said the Maryland Department of Health has screened thousands of employees at the resort, conference center and hotel where the conference was held and "not a single person has reported any unusual illness."

"The Dept. of Health is not restricting the movement or interactions with others of those hotel employees," it said in a statement, adding it is encouraging them to take their temperature twice daily and pay attention for symptoms.

The ACU said the infected attendee was receiving medical care in New Jersey and was quarantined.

In a separate situation, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., said she has self-isolated herself after having come into contact last week in Washington, D.C., with a person who has tested positive for the virus.

She said despite the risk of exposure to herself and her staff being low, she has decided to self-quarantine "out of an abundance of absolute caution."

"My D.C. staff and I are self-monitoring and maintaining social distancing practices," she said in a statement. "Neither I, nor my staff, are experiencing any symptoms at this time."

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