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Journalist tests positive for coronavirus after covering President Trump’s visit to Tampa Bay

The press member was in the same room as President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

BELLEAIR — A member of the press who covered President Donald Trump’s trip to the Tampa Bay area Friday has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the White House Correspondents’ Association.

The association’s president, Zeke Miller, a reporter for the Associated Press, wrote in a message to the group’s members Sunday about the member’s positive test.

Related: Trump lands in Tampa amid a pandemic and finds a way to hold a rally

“We’ve already reached out to those who were in the pools with this individual, and the White House Medical Unit is conducting additional contact tracing and providing follow-on tests for those in the pools and potentially exposed,” Miller’s message read.

The positive test came Sunday, just over a day after the journalist stood in close proximity to dozens of other reporters, photographers — and inhabited the same room as the country’s top elected official at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.

Also in the room with the journalist was Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, state Sen. Wilton Simpson, Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, state Rep. Danny Perez and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior.

Miller declined to name the journalist Monday, citing privacy concerns.

The White House declined to comment.

The scene Friday inside the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair as reporters covered a news conference involving President Donald Trump and several top Florida officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. A journalist who covered the event later tested positive for the coronavirus. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Everyone who participated in Friday’s events — elected officials, law enforcement, media — were tested earlier in the day. However, a newly infected person can test negative for the disease because it often takes days for the body to accumulate enough viral particles for a test to detect.

Out of town reporters arrived in Tampa via Air Force One. Then, local and out of town media members were escorted from Tampa International Airport to the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, where Trump, DeSantis and other elected officials were scheduled to hold a news conference on Tropical Storm Isaias and the state’s COVID-19 response.

The journalist who later tested positive attended that news conference, which lasted about 45 minutes. At the event, the dignitaries were seated around a table, some of them masked. The several dozen reporters who were there to cover the event stood shoulder to shoulder at the other end of the room, unable to socially distance. The journalists were masked as well.

Two Tampa Bay Times journalists covered the event. Neither is experiencing symptoms but will not work with colleagues or the public until cleared by a COVID-19 test.

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Scott, said in a statement that “there is no evidence to suggest Sen. Scott came into contact with the individual that tested positive,” according to information Scott’s office got from the White House Correspondents’ Association and the Senate attending physician. Scott will not quarantine, per the physician’s advice, Hartline said.

Simpson, a Trilby Republican and the incoming state Senate president, said he had not been contacted by anyone about the reporter who tested positive. Contact tracers have not reached out to Times journalists either.

Lee Mackay, the general manager at the Pelican Club, said he had no comment when reached Monday.

After the news conference, journalists were led into a larger bar area at the Pelican Golf Club, where food and drinks were served. The elected officials headed into a different part of the club to participate in a fundraiser.

For over an hour, journalists lingered in the bar area, some removing their masks to eat or drink.

Friday’s event marked the second time in a week that Florida’s top Republicans were potentially exposed to the virus.

Shortly before Trump’s visit, DeSantis attended a Florida Sheriff’s Association conference and gave an address without wearing a face mask. Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, who spoke at the conference as well, tested positive for COVID-19 Friday night after experiencing mild symptoms.

While a speakers’ schedule was not publicly available on the Florida Sheriff’s Association website, social media posts showed that DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls all spoke — maskless — at the conference.

Many of the sheriffs who greeted Trump in Tampa also attended the same conference in Lee County, which lasted from July 26 to July 28. According to the event page, sheriffs, command staff, sheriff’s office personnel and other law enforcement agency officials and guests were encouraged to attend the in-person event.

When asked Monday at a news conference in Fort Lauderdale about his own exposure to the infected journalist, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was tested the day Trump visited Florida.

DeSantis says he is tested regularly, has shown no symptoms, and has gotten his temperature checked “probably 100 times.”

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