Gaetz, who had appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 27, had taken a photograph with someone who was later determined to have been carrying the coronavirus, his chief of staff’s message said.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has tested negative for coronavirus.
Gaetz reported the test results Tuesday afternoon, one day after he learned he had been exposed to someone later identified as a carrier of the disease.
“I've just been informed that my COVID-19 lab result was negative,” Gaetz reported via Twitter. “In an abundance of caution, I will remain under self-quarantine at the advice of medical professionals through Thursday at 2pm. I continue to feel fine and show no symptoms.”
Gaetz got the news of his exposure on Monday as Air Force One was on its takeoff roll at Orlando Sanford International Airport for a flight back to Washington, D.C. Also aboard the plane, in addition to President Donald Trump, were National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.
As Air Force One lifted off, Gaetz got a message from his chief of staff telling him that a person with whom he had taken a photograph nearly two weeks before, during his Feb. 27 appearance at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, had subsequently been identified as a carrier of coronavirus.
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In the days after that exposure, Gaetz’s itinerary took him to, among other places, Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
On board Air Force One on Monday, as soon as he got his chief of staff’s message, Gaetz told someone that he needed to go into isolation immediately.
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“I was very matter of fact,” Gaetz said Tuesday.
He was placed in an unoccupied office aboard Air Force One, with the door closed, for the flight back to Washington, D.C.
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On Tuesday, the congressman was en route by car —alone — to Okaloosa County, where he was awaiting word from the White House Physician’s Office on his coronavirus test results. He was the only person aboard the aircraft to be tested for coronavirus, Gaetz said.
“I wasn’t a planned passenger” aboard Air Force One, Gaetz said. He was asked aboard the aircraft at the last minute by the president to discuss ongoing issues with regard to Florida’s continuing recovery from 2018’s Hurricane Michael, which devastated a wide swath of the state’s eastern panhandle.
Reviewing the coronavirus supplemental appropriation and preparing to go vote. pic.twitter.com/wjJ4YY4VZz— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 4, 2020
Even though he was isolated, Gaetz participated in the discussion, providing verbal answers to an aide who brought written questions from the meeting. Gaetz said he subsequently disposed of the paper containing the questions.
Once on the ground at Joint Base Andrews on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Gaetz was taken by government vehicle to a government location for coronavirus testing. He declined to be more specific Tuesday about that aspect of his experience.
The president insisted on speaking with him briefly before he departed Air Force One, Gaetz said. Also according to Gaetz, Trump appears to be taking steps to protect himself from contracting the virus. During a ride in the presidential limousine in the days before Air Force One left Orlando, Gaetz said, he saw the president frequently using hand sanitizer.
By late Monday afternoon, Gaetz left Washington alone by private vehicle, under a self-imposed quarantine.
“I couldn’t stay in a hotel,” he said from the car as he arrived in Okaloosa County at mid-morning Tuesday. Instead, he said, “I slept in a Walmart parking lot somewhere off (Interstate) 85.”
Even with the negative test result, Gaetz, as he noted on Twitter, plans to spend the remainder of his self-imposed quarantine in isolation. That quarantine will expire at around 2 p.m. Thursday, he said, 14 days after his apparent exposure at the CPAC meeting.
Fourteen days is the time within which symptoms of coronavirus are expected to manifest themselves, and is the recommended quarantine period for someone who might have the respiratory virus.
I've just been informed that my COVID-19 lab result was negative.
In an abundance of caution, I will remain under self-quarantine at the advice of medical professionals through Thursday at 2pm. I continue to feel fine and show no symptoms.
In recent days, Gaetz has faced some criticism for his March 4 decision — six days after his then-unknown exposure to the coronavirus carrier — for wearing a gas mask onto the House floor for a vote on an emergency $8.3 billion appropriation to battle the spread of coronavirus.
On Tuesday, he reiterated his position that members of Congress, in constant touch with the public, and frequently in crowded public spaces like airports, are very much susceptible to contracting diseases.
“We touch everyone we meet,” Gaetz said, explaining that taking selfies with constituents and supporters, as he did at CPAC, is a necessary and important part of the job of being a member of Congress.
“I wasn’t making light of the situation,” Gaetz insisted Tuesday. “I only wish I had worn the gas mask at CPAC.”
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
One person in Gaetz’s Northwest Florida congressional district has died after contracting coronavirus. The man, in his 70s with underlying health problems, died Friday.
I'm extremely saddened to learn of the first fatality in our district from coronavirus, a Northwest Floridian residing in Santa Rosa County. Our prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time. (1/3)— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 7, 2020