Coronavirus Fears Grow as Two AIPAC Conference Attendees Test Positive

'I have not been instructed to go into quarantine since returning,' said one Israeli who spoke at the conference

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, March 2, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, March 2, 2020. Credit: AFP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Attendees of the AIPAC policy conference last week are concerned after the lobby announced Friday that at least two of the participants have tested positive for the coronavirus, warning Congress, the Trump administration and activists among others.

It is not clear at the moment what exactly, if anything, attendees of AIPAC's annual conference, which drew as many as 18,000 participants to Washington last week from both the U.S. and Israel, should do in light of the announcement.

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On Thursday, two days after the conference ended, AIPAC updated the event's participants via email that a delegation from a New York synagogue which attended the event could have potentially brought coronavirus into the gathering. 

Members of this synagogue delegation met in the days leading up to the conference with a congregants who was later tested positive for the virus. The diagnosis however, came to their knowledge only after they interacted with him, while they were already in Washington, where they spent hours walking the hallways of the convention center where the AIPAC conference took place. 

That announcement was enough to cause concern among the thousands who participated in the lobby's conference, in light of the rapid spread of the virus. But on Friday night, the concern grew even stronger after AIPAC updated its supporters that at least two participants were in fact found to carry the virus. 

Several Israelis who attended the conference and have since returned to Israel offered differing updates on how they were treated by local authorities upon returning before AIPAC's Friday announcement. 

"I have not been instructed to go into quarantine since returning," said one Israeli who spoke at the conference. "I also called the government hotline and was told that there are no special instructions regarding the conference. I cancelled some plans I had for this week but am not in full quarantine." 

Another participant, who attended two days of the conference and is now in Israel, expressed confusion, "I read in the news that people who attended international gatherings are instructed to be quarantined at home but I'm not sure if that applies to AIPAC. I've not received any direct instructions". 

The official Israeli government instructions for people returning from abroad does indeed contain a clause about people returning from international conferences - they are asked to enter a home quarantine of 14 days. Although Israeli authorities have been aware of the situation regarding the delegation from New York as early as Wednesday, there have not been specific guidelines for the hundreds of Israelis who attended AIPAC's conference. 

Another Israeli who spoke at the conference this week told Haaretz on Saturday: “I was told that I don’t need to be in quarantine according to the Health Ministry regulations, but I’m mostly staying indoors anyway, just in case.” 

In the U.S., meanwhile, no specific instructions have come out to anyone who attended the conference. On Friday, hours before the news from AIPAC, authorities in Maryland announced that three people in Montgomery County, right outside Washinton D.C., have been tested positive for the coronavirus. The governor of Maryland has announced an emergency in light of the news. 

Several synagogues and Jewish institutions in the D.C. area have already taken precautions, such as cancelling upcoming events for Purim and other large community gatherings. But those cancellations mostly happened before AIPAC's announcement. Hundreds of Jews from communities in the Washington area attended the conference, and sources in the Jewish community said more cancellations should be expected in the days ahead. 

The Washington D.C. health department said in a statement released Friday night that “there is no identified risk to conference attendees at this time. All attendees are urged to follow the well-established prevention tips like staying at home if sick and calling ahead to a health provider if experiencing symptoms.”  

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

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