Hotel disputes conservative lobbyist Matt Schlapp's claim of coronavirus 'screening' at CPAC site

Key Points
  • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said Maryland health officials have told the group that 2,000 screens for coronavirus were done around the Gaylord National hotel.
  • But Marriott, the hotel's operator, said no "screens of either people or facilities" was performed at the hotel after the Conservative Political Action Conference attended by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
  • A New Jersey man who attended CPAC tested positive for the coronavirus. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Reps. Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Doug Collins entered self-quarantine after learning they had contact with the man.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, arrives to introduce President Donald Trump during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, February 29, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The operator of the Maryland hotel which recently hosted a major conservative political convention has denied claims by conservative activist Matt Schlapp that state health officials "did 2,000 screens all around the hotel" for the coronavirus after an attendee tested positive for the disease.

Schlapp said Monday on Twitter and later in a Fox News interview that Maryland health officials had told his American Conservative Union that those screenings were done after they learned a man at the Conservative Political Action Conference had been diagnosed with the coronavirus days after the conference ended Feb. 29.

Several members of Congress announced Monday that they were self-quarantining because they had contact in late February with the man during CPAC at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which is located in National Harbor, just outside of Washington, D.C.

The annual conference run by ACU is a highlight of conservatives' calendars, and was attended by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence this year.

"They did 2,000 screens all around the hotel," Schlapp told Fox News host Laura Ingraham via Skype from his home, where he was in self-quarantine because of his exposure to the same CPAC attendee.

"They found nothing," he said.

"Several days ago they came to us and said there's nothing to be alarmed about," said Schlapp, a lobbyist who is the ACU's chairman.

Schlapp's wife, Mercedes Schlapp, now works for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, and previously served as director of strategic communications in the Trump White House.

Allison Sitch, a spokeswoman for Marriott, the company that operates the Gaylord National, in an email to CNBC, contradicted Matt Schlapp's claim.

"It is my understanding that no screens of either people or facilities has been performed at the property," Sitch said.

She did say that Marriott has been in contact with local health authorities "and are following their guidance about this situation. "

"We take hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously and have already taken a number of additional steps to perform enhanced cleaning of areas of the hotel where the conference was hosted," she said.

At a meeting Monday of hundreds of Gaylord National workers, the hotel's general manager "was flat out asked if that was true" that thousands of screenings had been performed at the hotel on the heels of CPAC, one of those workers told CNBC.

"And he [the manager] said, 'No,'" the worker said. "According to the general manager there's been no sort of mass screening of employees ... he flat out denied it."

A health official from Prince George's County, Maryland, who was also present at that meeting, said he "did not have any knowledge that the state of Maryland had screened thousands of employees" at the hotel, the worker said.

A spokesman for the Maryland Health Department said in an email, "I don't have any information on this," when first asked if any coronavirus screening was done at the Gaylord National.

Questions during White House briefing on coronavirus outbreak
Questions during White House briefing on coronavirus outbreak

Ian Walters, spokesman for the American Conservative Union, told CNBC on Tuesday that the group's executive director, Dan Schneider, spoke on Sunday with a Maryland health official who told Schneider that 2,000 screenings for coronavirus had been done at the hotel.

Walters said that Schneider's understanding was that the screenings were of people, and that the screenings involved, at the very least, people being questioned about their current health.

But Walters said, based on his own conversations Wednesday with the media office for the Maryland Health Department, "I don't think screening is the right term."

"It's more of an assessment than a formal screening, an assessment or an evaluation," Walters said.

A spokesman for the Maryland Health Department, when asked again Wednesday whether any screening was done, and what department officials had told CPAC's organizers, said in an email, "The Maryland Department of Health has closely coordinated with CPAC organizers to provide guidance to attendees."

A spokesman for the Prince George's County Health Department also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A press release on the county's website issued Sunday said that the county, "along with the Maryland Department of Health, recommends members of the public who attended or worked" at CPAC "monitor themselves for symptoms of a respiratory infection including fever, cold-like symptoms, cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath."

The release does not mention any screenings or assessments of members of the public or workers at the Gaylord for coronavirus.

"Residents who attended or worked this event should check their temperature twice a day and notify their health care provider and our Health Department if their temperature exceeds 100.4 or if they develop a respiratory illness," the release said. "They should remain at home until they receive instructions about next steps from their health care provider or local health department."

The American Conservative Union has been criticized in recent days for how it dealt with learning that a CPAC attendee tested positive for the coronavirus.


An article Monday in Politico noted that "The ACU's handling of the case has led to grumbling from some conference goers, who have complained of a two-tiered system: VIPs have been notified directly even to be told they did not interact with the infected man, while ordinary rank-and-file attendees have by and large been left to wonder, receiving only vaguer information in mass emails."

"Meanwhile, critics have noted the irony of prominent officials downplaying the outbreak even as the disease may silently have been spreading among the Trump administration's own members and supporters," the Politico article said.

Trump's incoming chief of staff, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., as well as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., have self-quarantined because of their contact with the infected man at CPAC.

So have two other GOP House members, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Doug Collins of Georgia, who had contact with Trump before they were informed they had been in contact with the infected man. Gaetz was on a flight from Florida on Air Force One with Trump on Monday when he learned he had contact with the man at CPAC.

The man diagnosed with the coronavirus has not been identified publicly. 

However, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed to CNBC on Tuesday that a 55-year-old man from Englewood, New Jersey, who had tested positively presumptively for the coronavirus, had attended CPAC, and that the man was symptomatic as of Feb. 27, while the conference was still ongoing. That man was in a local New Jersey hospital, according to state officials.

The spokeswoman also confirmed that the same man had apparently attended Temple Young Israel in New Rochelle, New York.

That temple is the same one attended by a lawyer in New Rochelle, who is known to have contracted coronavirus.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday deployed the National Guard to New Rochelle, to contain a one-mile radius around the temple that is believed to be a connective point of many of the 108 cases of coronavirus identified in Westchester County.