Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) announced on Monday that he is quarantining himself after being informed that he came into contact with an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference who tested positive for COVID-19. Gaetz, a Trump loyalist known for orchestrating outlandish stunts to get media attention, mocked coronavirus last week by wearing a gas mask onto the House floor to vote for an emergency spending bill to combat the virus.
Reviewing the coronavirus supplemental appropriation and preparing to go vote. pic.twitter.com/wjJ4YY4VZz
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 4, 2020
In a Twitter thread, Gaetz’s office claimed the congressman donned the gas mask as a sincere precautionary measure rather than as a stunt to get headlines, writing that he was simply “demonstrating his concern.” His office added that “while the Congressman is not experiencing symptoms, he received testing today and expects results soon,” and that “he’ll remain self-quarantined until the 14-day period expires this week.”
This is the second time in two days Gaetz has had to pretend that wearing the mask was not a stunt. On Sunday, he argued from his personal Twitter account he was “quite serious” when he wore the prop around the Capitol. He was responding to a Washington Post story about one of his constituents dying of COVID-19.
Made light?!?! I was quite serious.
The threat to Congress is real, as I explained based on travel and habits like selfies and handshakes. https://t.co/O9MDM3kAiq
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) March 8, 2020
The idea that Gaetz brought out a mask out of a genuine concern about COVID-19 spreading through Congress is hard to believe, not only because of his penchant for publicity stunts and the ludicrousness of wearing a freaking gas mask on the House floor, but also because of an interview with Vanity Fair conducted at CPAC in which Gaetz joked about coronavirus. He even lamented how it was taking his name out of the news and that his office might need to find a way to get him infected:
“We have been bumped off of television the last two nights because of the coronavirus, and I am just low-key convinced that Jillian would give me coronavirus to get me back on television,” he said, in reference to his chief of staff, Jillian Lane Wyant. When Wyant rattled back a handful of statistics about the low prevalence of infections among infants and children, Gaetz joked, “Do you think someone weaponized the disease to take out the boomers?”
Also working against Gaetz’s argument is that the Centers for Disease Control has urged Americans who are not experiencing symptoms to refrain from wearing masks for fear of causing undue panic. God forbid he consult with an expert.
Gaetz joins Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.) in quarantining himself after learning that late last month he was exposed to a CPAC attendee who later tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unclear which other conservative lawmakers came into contact with the unnamed conference attendee. So too is whether President Trump — who in a speech at CPAC suggested the coronavirus scare was a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats — may have come into contact with anyone infected.
Regardless of whether Trump was exposed to the attendee in question, the president could be at risk. Last week, he greeted and shook Collins’ hand during a trip to Georgia, and on Monday he flew with Gaetz on Air Force One. Trump was also photographed at CPAC shaking hands with American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schapp, who has since announced he had contact with the attendee who tested positive. The White House is reportedly concerned that the president could contract the virus, given his exposure and old age.
Though Trump has publicly played off the threat, telling reporters on Saturday that he’s “not concerned at all” about contracting the virus, this may not be the case behind closed doors. Earlier on Monday, Vanity Fair reported that the president is in a “total meltdown” over coronavirus, and has even expressed concern that journalists in his press pool may purposely contract COVID-19 in order to infect Trump while on Air Force One.