March 8, 2020 / 8:57 PM / 22 days ago

U.S. conservative leader had contact with coronavirus case at conference

WASHINGTON/WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 8 (Reuters) - The organizer of a large gathering of prominent U.S. conservative politicians and activists said on Sunday he had some “incidental” contact with an attendee who has since tested positive for coronavirus, but that he felt “healthy as a horse” and had not heard of anyone else falling ill.

“I had incidental contact with him very briefly,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends Weekend.”

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also attended the gathering in late February, but Schlapp confirmed that neither had contact with the person infected by the virus.

Conservative students, right-wing media personalities and pro-Trump activists and fans gathered just outside Washington last month for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which met this year under the theme “America vs. Socialism.”

A top U.S. health official, Anthony Fauci, said on Sunday that Americans, especially those who are vulnerable, may need to stop attending big gatherings as the coronavirus spreads.

In addition to Trump and Pence, participants included incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Representative Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s biggest congressional allies.

Schlapp shook hands with Trump before the president spoke on the conference’s last day. However, the infected attendee was not attending that day, Schlapp wrote on Twitter.

The incubation period for the coronavirus is anywhere between two to 14 days and the conference ended on Feb. 29.

In an interview with Reuters, Schlapp said the patient, who is quarantined, “seemed to have a big step forward to health last night and feels even better today.”

He said that his team has held many conversations with people associated with the event and heard of no alarming health developments.

“We’re doing our best to ascertain who might have had any contact with the patient,” Schlapp said, adding that people who had concerns should reach out to their medical professionals.

Ian Walters, a spokesman for CPAC, said only a “handful” of people at the conference had direct contact with the sick attendee, who Schlapp said on Fox had stayed “in a small area.”

In the Fox interview, Schlapp said CPAC had spoken with health officials in Maryland where the conference was held and that “they are not alarmed.”

“We had these hand sanitizer stations everywhere,” he said, saying he saw Trump “scrub down ... and clean his hands.”

A White House official said Trump, a self-described germophobe, uses antibacterial gel “all the time as it is.”

In the United States, 19 people have died out of about 450 reported cases of coronavirus, which originated in China last year and causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19. The outbreak has killed more than 3,600 globally. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Jeff Mason in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Diane Craft)

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