As the COVID-19 death toll in America continues its march past 500,000 this week, all the big anti-maskers will be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida.
The speakers at “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world” will include former President Trump, who set an example for anti-maskers by not wearing one, and Donald Trump Jr., who partied in the New Year with a bare face at Mar-a-Lago.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem—who endorsed the superspreading Sturgis motorcycle rally and even refused to wear a mask at a ribbon-cutting for a mask factory expansion in November—will give a big speech.
Also present will be Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who refused an offer of a mask from a fellow member of Congress as they sought shelter during the Capitol riots; Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who mocked face coverings early in the pandemic by wearing a gas mask on the House floor; Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who hates masks as much as she loves guns; and Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who called mask mandates “a logical fallacy creating a false binary choice that I don’t think actually exists.”
They can mingle with COVID skeptic Alex Berenson who wrongly says with great confidence that there is scant evidence “masks do very much to control the spread of this virus once it gets into a community in any meaningful way” and gym owner Ian Smith of New Jersey, who refused to enforce COVID-19 precautions and once said, “This is our hill and I’ll die on it before I let you take it. Come and get us…You’ll simply have to kill us first.”
But get this: All these anti-makers and more will be convening at a locale that has not just one but two mask mandates. And CPAC is saying that participants will not even be given their tickets unless they agree to observe both.
“All event participants are expected to behave in accordance with professional standards and applicable laws,” the CPAC code of conduct says. “Per Orange County, Fla. Executive Order and Hyatt face coverings mandate, face coverings are required in all public areas of Hyatt Regency Orlando.”
And in a twist that is sure to distress attendees who see mask mandates as unenforceable violations of personal liberty, CPAC insists it will actually enforce its code:
“Guests who are not wearing face coverings at the hotel as required will be asked to wear one. Face coverings will be made available to guests who do not have one. Guests who are not willing to comply with this face coverings mandate may either stay in their guest room throughout their visit or they will be asked to leave the hotel property.”
The code further says, “Face coverings are required in the hotel lobby, all meeting space public areas such as foyers and hallways, meeting ballrooms and breakout rooms when not seated and socially distanced (or when not presenting in a session and socially distanced), restaurants and bars when not actively eating or drinking, fitness center, and while moving around in outdoor areas.”
A CPAC spokesman told The Daily Beast that all participants, including VIPs, are expected to follow the rules.
“This applies also (to) speaker, speaker guests, sponsor, sponsor guests,” the spokesman, Ian Walters, said. “Set up so that you can’t accept the terms and conditions on behalf of anyone else. Each registrant is an individual account.”
It also applies to Florida’s own Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has refused to institute a statewide mandate and had banned local governments from imposing fines or other penalties for violating local mask requirements.
If CPAC doesn’t make sure the code is enforced, the likes of Sen. Mike Lee, who returned to the Senate just 11 days after testing positive for COVID, and Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk, who mocked mask-wearers on Twitter the same day his mentor died of the virus, may have to contend with a higher authority.
Since July, Orlando County has been dispatching compliance “strike teams” to enforce its local mandate. They began issuing $300 citations in December. As of Feb.18, 2021, the Strike Teams had issued 128 warnings and 23 citations. They inspected more than 6,600 businesses and reported a compliance rate of more than 99 percent.
At a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings responded to a query from the Daily Beast as to whether he could commit to enforcing compliance at CPAC given that the gathering is sure to include anti-maskers.
“We have a mandatory facial covering here in Orange County and we want compliance with that order,” Demings replied.
He said that he had been in conversation with “hoteliers” in recent days.
“They have assured me that they intend to make it a safe environment for their guests and that they will follow the guidelines,” he went on. “If we receive complaints just like we do with any other types of businesses, our compliance team will be dispatched to do inspections at those locations.”
We won’t know until Thursday if CPAC will follow through on its promise. But CPAC did act responsibly after a participant in the March 2020 gathering tested positive for COVID-19. After the participant, a New Jersey OB-Gyn doctor alerted CPAC, it immediately conducted contact tracing on its own while health authorities in Maryland and New Jersey did nothing
“I feel very proud of how we responded last year,” Walters told The Daily Beast on Monday.
Walters reported that CPAC had been consulting in recent days with Orlando County authorities and Hyatt representatives about masks and other COVID-19 precautions. While anti-maskers might consider this heresy, Walters described it as “being responsible.”
A big test will come when former President Trump addresses a CPAC crowd of 3,000 or more. Trump himself is almost certain to go bare-faced. Will his presence inspire anti-makers to resist any effort to make them observe a mandate?
They may decide that “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world” is trying to turn them into sheep and revolt. Then we will see how much or how little CPAC is willing to do for the common good in an emergency that has claimed more than 500,000 American lives since their gathering just a year ago.