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New York doctor at CPAC was coronavirus ‘patient zero’

New York doctor at CPAC was coronavirus ‘patient zero’

by Anthony Leonardi & Zachary Halaschak | Washington Examiner  |  Published on March 11, 2020

For days, questions have swirled about the identity of a CPAC attendee who tested positive for coronavirus and whose diagnosis prompted congressional quarantines.

That person is 55-year-old Dr. Alan W. Berger Sr., a clinical instructor at the New York University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, multiple sources told the Washington Examiner.

Ian Walters, communications director for the American Conservative Union, which hosted the event, told the Washington Examiner that the patient, whom the group has not publicly identified, was asymptomatic while at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which ran from Feb. 26 to 29 in National Harbor, Maryland. However, after later exhibiting symptoms and testing positive for COVID-19, the patient reached out to officials at the ACU on March 7 to warn that he may have transmitted the disease to others at the gathering.

With the news, concern quickly grew.

The mystery was further compounded by a slow drip of high-profile Republican lawmakers who began to self-quarantine themselves after learning of potential contact with the then-asymptomatic conferencegoer. Those who came into contact with Berger were Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. All House members closed their offices, though Cruz’s remained open and operational. None of them have experienced any symptoms of the respiratory illness. “The office is open, continuing operations, and taking all necessary precautions to ensure their own health and wellness, as well as the health and wellness of our family members, our constituents, our colleagues in Congress, and everyone around us,” Cruz’s office said in a statement, noting earlier that the senator “felt great.”

CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp said Saturday he also had an interaction with the infected attendee. Schlapp also shook hands with President Trump that same weekend.

Gaetz confirmed Berger’s attendance at the event to the Washington Examiner. The congressman, a staunch Trump ally, traveled with the president aboard Air Force One from Orlando, Florida, to Washington, D.C., on Monday. The Florida Republican said that, after finding out about his possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus, he was put inside a “closed-up room” on the presidential jet.

Gaetz responded to a text message from the Washington Examiner shortly after disembarking Air Force One. When asked if he “had contact” with Berger while at CPAC, Gaetz responded simply, “I did.” Gaetz had previously been spotted wearing a gas mask on Capitol Hill during a vote on an emergency spending bill to combat the flu-like virus. “Members of Congress are human petri dishes,” the congressman told reporters. “We fly through the dirtiest airports. We touch everyone we meet.”

Gaetz said he tested negative for the illness on Tuesday.

Schlapp and his organization have been mum about the patient’s identity. He told the Daily Caller in a recent interview that the ACU was “barred” from revealing information.

“We don’t reveal his [information] to anyone. We talk to him and others to determine if there were interactions, then we call those who had the interaction,” Schlapp said. “If we released his name, which we are barred from, it would not help anyone.”

“Nobody at the conference is suffering because his information is being kept confidential,” he continued to say to the outlet, which referred to the CPAC attendee as “patient zero.”

Walters, the ACU communications director, told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday that Schlapp’s statement saying ACU was “barred” from revealing Berger’s identity was not “an accurate characterization.” Walters said the ACU did not want to reveal Berger’s identity to anyone, as it was “following the lead” of the health departments in New Jersey and Maryland. Upon requests for comment, the Maryland Department of Health would not verify Berger’s identity, citing privacy laws.

Berger is currently hospitalized and recovering in New Jersey. The New Jersey Department of Health, where Berger is currently hospitalized, did not respond to requests for comment.

Berger reportedly participated in multiple conservative activities, including joining Cruz’s “Jewish Leadership Coalition” during the senator’s 2016 presidential campaign and holding multiple fundraisers for Republicans.

Cruz, who appeared onstage with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, was the first to announce a cautionary quarantine after the ACU made him aware he had interacted with the attendee. Upon request for comment, Cruz’s office said, “Sen. Cruz was made aware of who the individual was and confirmed he had a brief interaction with him.”

A spokeswoman at NYU Langone Health confirmed to the Daily Mail that Berger had self-quarantined himself after attending the conference.

“At this time, we can confirm that Dr. Alan W. Berger is a member of our OBGYN department. Dr. Berger informed us that he has voluntary self-quarantined and is not seeing patients at his private practice. We will share additional information with you as it becomes available,” she said.

“The Chairwoman has been in contact with CPAC and was informed she likely did not have any direct contact with the individual,” an RNC spokesperson told the Washington Examiner, referring to McDaniel. “She is completely healthy.”

Several other senior attendees familiar with the situation also said they remember seeing Berger at the conference, though not all physically interacted with him.

Walters said that though the ACU did not publicly reveal Berger’s identity, it notified just over a dozen people who came in direct contact with him after gathering evidence, though that list was subject to change. Berger bought a “gold ticket” to the conference, with each type of ticket granting attendees different access.

“All of the gold ticket members, just under 100 people, were contacted by Sunday, via telephone in most cases,” Walters said. Walters also said there is “evidence” that Berger “walked through CPAC central once, but did not interact with anyone or touch anything, or any of the tables.”

CPAC central is a large area with dozens of tables and booths hosted by various vendors. Attendees can purchase items or learn more about different groups in that part of the conference, which is in one of the large ballrooms at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center.

The ACU agreed to provide the Washington Examiner an anonymous statement from the infected attendee in the future as soon as he recovers from COVID-19, though they did not confirm Berger’s identity. “He deserves a chance to get better,” Walters said.

The statement said: “Our family appreciates the good wishes, prayers and respect of privacy during this time.”

Despite the conservative organization’s thorough internal investigations, several high-profile conservatives voiced their frustration with the organization’s public response.

It was announced on Friday that two people tested positive for the illness after attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. That number has since risen to five. Numerous other events in the United States have been canceled or postponed, including the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, and South by Southwest in Texas.

Worldwide, more than 118,000 people have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, which has killed at least 4,262. Some countries have taken powerful measures to contain the growing contagion, with Italy on Monday locking down its entire country of about 60 million people. Universities across the U.S. have begun implementing social distancing policies, including canceling classes and directing professors to teach students remotely.

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