At CPAC, ‘illness’ and ‘death’ from COVID-19 are risks conservative attendees must assume: waiver
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Laughing in the face of COVID-19 has been sport during pandemic-era stagings of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and its regional offshoots.

"Thousands of patriots and not a damn mask in sight,” Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas beamed at CPAC Orlando in 2022. He cast vaccine and mask mandates as “a battle between power and liberty.”

Then-White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in February 2020 depicted COVID-19 as a prosaic flu erroneously hyped by the media as something that "brings down the president"— then Donald Trump.

And in March 2020, CPAC leader Matt Schlapp told Fox News of the novel coronavirus: “[W]hat the CPAC experience has taught the whole country ... is that it's actually hard to get it."

But as CPAC’s flagship event returns in March to Maryland’s Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C. — the same hotel where a VIP attendee triggered one of the nation’s earliest COVID-19 scares — conference organizers are quietly expressing a level of COVID-19 trepidation attendees almost certainly won’t see on-stage.

"COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization,” reads the "WAIVER OF LIABILITY FOR COVID-19 IN ATTENDING CPAC EVENTS” posted on CPAC’s website.

Several sobering paragraphs follow: “COVID-19 is reported to be extremely contagious. The state of medical knowledge is evolving, but the virus is believed to spread from person-to-person contact and/or by contact with contaminated surfaces and objects, and even possibly in the air. … COVID-19 can cause serious and potentially life-threatening illness and even death”

The waiver further presents CPAC as an event that comes with health risks.

“Attendance is of such value to me [and/or to my children,] that I accept the risk of being exposed to, contracting, and/or spreading COVID-19 in order to attend CPAC’s events in person,” CPAC’s waiver states. “I hereby forever release and waive my right to bring suit against CPAC and its officers, directors, employees, or other representatives in connection to any exposure, infection, and/or spread of COVID-19 related to my attending CPAC events."

Could someone who refused to sign the waiver still attend CPAC?

“No,” CPAC spokesperson Kaylee Spielman told Raw Story this week. “The COVID waiver needs to be checked for an individual to attend CPAC as it’s part of the registration process.”

She also said the host hotel has no COVID policy for guests, which may be a relief for CPAC staff who would be expected to enforce it.

“Sanitizer will be located all around the hotel and event, although masks will not be provided,” Spielman explained. “If an individual wants to wear a mask, they will have to bring one for themselves.”

In 2021 at CPAC’s Orlando conference, there was an unnerving moment when two CPAC organizers took the stage. A soft-spoken man and woman introduced themselves to the crowd as CPAC’s liaison with the hotel. The man began by reminding the crowd that everyone in CPAC was a capitalist — and as such, support the rule of law and private property. The hotel was private property, he noted, which meant CPAC should respect the hotel’s rules, which he asked his colleague to detail.

She explained that the hotel asked guests to wear masks in congested areas.

"Booooooo!" erupted from the crowd punctuated by screams of "Freedom" with the sporadic: "Bullshit!"

The couple quickly left the stage.

COVID-19 denialism has threaded through CPAC since 2020, when an attendee who owned an expensive “gold ticket” became infected. The gold ticket bestowed the bearer with opportunities to mingle with top Republicans.

Some GOP guests, including Cruz and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, voluntarily self-quarantined for two weeks after meeting the gold ticket holder. Politico reported that some attendees complained that wealthy purchasers of expensive tickets were given more truthful and in-depth briefings about the risks of contracting COVID than those who bought ordinary tickets.

That uneasiness about COVID’s true dangers being hidden from the masses proved correct. While Mulvaney was telling CPAC audiences that COVID was concerning but under control, Trump was confiding to journalist Bob Woodward that COVID was far more dangerous than most Americans knew.

Covid was deadly "not just (to) old people, Bob ...young people, too," Trump said. "You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed … It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

In January, President Joe Biden’s administration announced that it would wind down its treatment of COVID-19 as a national emergency and end emergency declarations altogether on May 11.

COVID-19 has killed more than 1.1 million people in the United States since 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 3,000 people in the United States have died each week of COVID-19 for the past several weeks, CDC data indicates.