The Time Kimberly Guilfoyle Got COVID-19—and Montana Heard Nothing
Photo by William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images
When Kimberly Guilfoyle tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Donald Trump's speech on Mount Rushmore in July, the result seemed to come just in time. She and her friend, who happened to be the President's son, Donald Trump Jr., skipped the rally and allegedly avoided contact with the President.
But the duo had already made a lasting impression on the Northern Plains, where they hosted a two-day Trump campaign event in Big Sky, Montana earlier this week that may have exposed local and political donors to COVID-19 - and some to be found were in the news about it.
"There's this entire program put in place by the CDC to alert people who have been in contact with someone who may have tested positive," said Grant Kennedy, a fly-fishing guide hired to find donors at Trump -Teaching event.
"I found out because my co-guide posted me a photo on CNN," he told The Daily Beast.
The White House has quietly told the vet group that it may have exposed them to COVID
With the White House resisting calls to contact traces of people who may have been exposed to the president before he himself tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the July infection offers a kind of case study for Trumpworld's hand-off approach to control the spread of a deadly pathogen at their own events.
Tickets for the Trump campaign's "Mountain West Ranch Retreat" between June 30 and July 2, south of Bozeman, cost up to $ 15,000. Participants included Republicans running for competitive state races, including Kristen Juras, a candidate for lieutenant governor; Mrs. Greg Gianfortes wife Susan; and state auditor Matt Rosendale and his wife, according to a leaked copy of the guest list obtained from a local NBC partner.
Other attendees were Home Secretary David Bernhardt, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Aurelia Skipwith, and former Home Secretary and Montana MP Ryan Zinke.
A number of donors had flown in from outside the state. Photos taken at the event and posted on social media showed people in close proximity to each other. A photo of Juras was taken alongside Gianforte's wife and behind Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr.
Few masks were worn.
The two-day event included receptions and fly-fishing at a private ranch, as well as dinner for over 100 people at Big Sky's posh restaurant on Lone Mountain Ranch.
When it became known that Guilfoyle had tested positive for the corona virus the day after he left Montana, at least some politicians - including Gianforte, who is running for governor - announced that they would suspend their campaigns on quarantine.
But several locals who attended the event told The Daily Beast that they were never contacted by the Trump campaign or local health officials and instead had to make the tough decision of getting themselves tested or quarantined. Lone Mountain Ranch officials told local media that they would quarantine potentially affected employees after learning of the positive case.
"It's difficult. I was so unsure of how busy we were going to be because of COVID. And once it's okay and it looks like it could be a very busy season, you suddenly have to sit on the couch for two weeks and are missing out on those two weeks of work, "said Kennedy, who was one of several fly fishing guides hired during the two-day event.
Prior to the event, the guides were not told how many attendees there would be or where they were from in the country they were from, according to Kennedy. The guides all had close interaction with Guilfoyle, sometimes taking her hand to help her get on and off the slippery stream, they said. Kennedy estimated that the subsequent quarantine cost each of them at least $ 5,000 in labor, a huge loss of income for a seasonal worker. Another leader said he had filed for unemployment for the two weeks under the CARE Act.
They were never contacted again by the campaign after the event.
"As a guide, of course, you're essentially exposing yourself to every single customer we bring here this summer," said Kennedy. “But just to think about it, why would you choose a pandemic timing to trigger a donor withdrawal? It just seems irresponsible and kind of stupid. Leaving aside all of the potential dangers facing a group of people from across the country, many of them come from larger cities where the numbers for COVID have been higher. And then bring it to a tiny church like Bozeman. "
Trump campaign spokespersons and Donald Trump Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite much of the event being outdoors, experts said there is still a high risk of virus transmission.
"If you taught someone how to fly fishing and you were next to them and touched them, there is certainly a higher risk even if you are outdoors," said Timothy Brewer, doctor and professor of medicine and epidemiology at The University of California at Los Angeles told The Daily Beast. "If you are close enough to someone that their breath drops on you, you could certainly become infected."
Public health officials told The Daily Beast that neither Gallatin nor the neighboring counties of Madison - Big Sky spans both - have ever officially started the contact tracing for the donor retreat. That's because they were not contacted by the campaign or by officials in South Dakota, where Guilfoyle tested positive, to alert them of a possible outbreak.
“I remember reaching out to our state health department to see if we received anything. We got calls from the press, but we are in this position where we have no case to investigate. And until we have to investigate a case, there is not much we can do about it, ”said Matt Kelley, health officer for the Gallatin City Department of Health. "I can tell you that none of the campaigns caught us."
While Guilfoyle's team confirmed she was positive for the virus in South Dakota, state health department spokesman Derrick Haskins said when the White House medical team was informed of her positive test results, officials said they would take the next steps take notice of those who are likely to be exposed.
"We were informed that they would complete the case investigation and contact tracing," Haskins told The Daily Beast.
Officials in South Dakota also usually reach the home state where Guilfoyle lived, but Haskins said they were never told where it was. Guilfoyle lives in New York.
"[We] did not have access to their state of residence to submit an interstate medical report to the appropriate state health agency," said Haskins.
It is unclear why the White House did not open the promised investigation. A representative from Guilfoyle did not respond to a request for comment and the White House referred a request for comment to the Trump campaign.
John Ebelt, Montana Department of Health Information Officer, acknowledged that the state "has not been asked by any other state to assist with a public health investigation into the matter."
Gallatin health officials were unaware of the Trump donor event in advance, which could have been useful: Kelley said if reports that more than 100 donors attended a dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch were true, it would likely go against that Law violate rules of the district health department.
"We worked really hard to cut the number of events with 50+ people," he told The Daily Beast.
Experts said it was highly unlikely that the event did not lead to the spread of the virus.
"The fact that we don't know if it is spreading is just because we haven't looked. You never find anything that you're not looking for, so everyone will go away not necessarily assuming they got it there "Said Lawrence Gostin, professor and director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University." This was a superspreader event waiting to happen as all risk factors are bundled into one. "
"It is against every principle of public health," Gostin continued. "In non-profit terms, it means they are not doing their job. In less non-profit terms, it's an exemption from responsibility that will cost people's lives."
Throughout the spring, COVID-19 cases in Montana remained stable and low. The numbers rose measurably in July, however, rising from 67 new cases on July 1 to 208 on July 28, according to nationwide data.
Part of Montana's appeal is the hiking, fly fishing, hunting, and the expanse that the treasure state has to offer. Kelley cited tourism, at least in part, to explain an increase in cases in the county in recent months. The first numbers rose in June with a surge that began the week of the Trump campaign event and continued through the weekend of July 4th, peaking on July 23rd, according to the county. Due to the overlap with the holiday as well as an outbreak at a construction site in the county that occurred around the same time period, it's impossible to tell where the spread came from, Kelley said.
The county is currently experiencing another major surge.
Montana has also been a favorite for political rallies, given the state's tight Senate and House races, but those gatherings have proven difficult to contain. In mid-September, more than 100 people gathered for a rally led by Vice President Mike Pence to blunt for Montana's GOP candidates. The event took place in another city in Gallatin County; Local newspapers described the crowd as clustered with few wearing face covers.
Meanwhile, Donald Jr. led a jam-packed indoor rally in Panama City, Florida on Thursday just a week after his father tested positive for COVID-19 and later spent three nights in the hospital.
For Kennedy, looking at the new White House crisis, which saw at least 30 attendees at a now infamous rose garden event signing COVID-19 - including the President and First Lady - seems a bit deja vu.
"I feel like they're not following their own guidelines during this pandemic," Kennedy said. “Which makes me feel like they're kind of inconsiderate. You don't obey the rules. "
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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