News broke on Fourth of July that a handful of Montana’s high-profile elected officials and political candidates were potentially exposed to COVID-19 during two of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign events. This week, we learned where those events took place and who attended. YPR News’ Kevin Trevellyan spoke with Maritsa Georgiou of NBC Montana, who had the scoop.
Kevin Trevellyan speaks with Maritsa Georgiou of NBC Montana about her reporting on several recent Trump reelection campaign events in Montana.
Kevin Trevellyan: Hi Maritsa, thanks for sharing your reporting with our listeners.
Maritsa Georgiou: Oh yeah, you’re very welcome. Happy to do it.
KT: The Trump reelection campaign held two private events in Montana last week. The events began receiving media attention after Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top campaign fundraiser and the girlfriend of President Trump’s eldest son, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. Why is that relevant here?
MG: Several high-profile Montana politicians came out as soon as her positive case hit the national news media, saying ‘Yeah, we were in close contact. We’re getting tested.’
KT: Who among Montana’s Republican elected officials and other high-profile figures attended these events?
MG: Candidate for lieutenant governor Kristen Juras was there. She’s running alongside current Rep. Greg Gianforte. His wife, Susan Gianforte, was there. He was actually in Washington D.C. State Auditor Matt Rosendale and his wife were at one of the events. The candidate for state Auditor Troy Downing was at one of the events. Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen was at one of the events.
KT: And how did some of these officials you just mentioned react to Kimberly Guilfoyle’s positive test result?
MG: Initially I reached out to Greg Gianforte’s campaign and said ‘What are you doing?’ They responded and said ‘We are quarantining, everyone’s quarantining. We’re suspending in-person campaign events. Everyone’s going to be tested.’ As far as I know Troy Downing’s representatives said he really wasn’t in that close of contact, but he’s going to take safety measures. Matt Rosendale and his wife all said they’re going to suspend campaigning and get tested and self-quarantine as well.
KT: Has anyone released their test results or indicated whether they’re sticking to their quarantine? I saw that state auditor candidate Troy Downing posted a photo on Twitter with his campaign team yesterday.
MG: Yeah, I can’t speak for Troy Downing; I have had trouble getting in touch with his team. However, Matt Rosendale’s team says he and his wife tested negative. And I just heard a short time ago from a rep from the Gianforte campaign saying both Susan Gianforte, Greg Gianforte and Kristen Juras all came back negative on their COVID tests.
KT: As you know, early stories about these events lacked some key details. What have you learned this week about where the fundraisers were held and how many people attended?
MG: So the Gallatin Gateway event, that was on Tuesday, June 30. It was at a private ranch. 64 people attended that we can see on the guest list. Only 19 of those guests were Montanans, or listed Montana as their primary residence.
Now the second event was in Big Sky. Hosted 105 attendees. And a lot of the out-of-state folks were the same from the night before on the June 30 event. This was on July 1. It was hosted at Lone Mountain Ranch, which is an operating guest ranch.
KT: Why are those attendance numbers notable?
MG: Phase 2 guidelines say that any events or gatherings with more than 50 people should be canceled if social distancing can’t be followed. Now if there’s an event with more than 50 people, local Gallatin City-County health rules say that organizers should consult with the health department to form a plan. And as far as I know, no plan was made for these events.
KT: Does it appear attendees were social distancing or wearing personal protective equipment at the events?
MG: I called many of the names on the lists and looked them up on social media, like Instagram. Could not find one photo of anybody wearing a mask, but found lots of photos of several people posing together and having what appeared to be a good time.
KT: In your reporting, you describe procedures for how states track COVID-19 exposure. What are health officials telling you about those protocols in the context of Kimberly Guilfoyle and these campaign events?
MG: So it’s a little bit tricky. When I first reached out to the state health department, they told me that in order for them to start contact tracing they need to hear from a different state’s health department that there was a positive case in Montana and that they had close contacts here.
So when I first reached out, they had not heard from another state’s health department about Kimberly Guilfoyle that they told me. However, when we dug even further into this, it’s not like the other state is going to call and say ‘Kimberly Guilfoyle tested positive and she has close contacts in Montana.’ They would not use Kimberly Guilfoyle’s name. So local health officials told me that it’s very possible she submitted a small list of close contacts here in Montana, and nobody knew that they were directly connected to this event because of HIPAA laws.
KT: Quite tricky indeed. At this point, are you aware of any other event attendees testing positive for COVID-19?
MG: I have not heard of any. However, again, because of HIPAA laws it’s possible we won’t.
KT: Is there anything else you want to add?
MG: No, that’s it. Thanks so much for having me.