Politics

Liberal MP in self-isolation over COVID-19 fears after attending Washington D.C. conference

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is isolating himself at his home in Montreal as a precaution after attending a conference in Washington D.C. last week with people who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, CBC News has learned.

Several MPs attended conferences in U.S. with people who were later diagnosed with the virus

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is self-isolating at home after attending a conference in the U.S. that was also attended by someone who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is isolating himself at his home in Montreal as a precaution after attending a conference in Washington D.C. last week with people who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, CBC News has learned.

Organizers of two major political events — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or AIPAC) and the Conservative Political Action Conference (or CPAC) — have confirmed that several participants have tested positive for the virus.

Housefather told CBC News in an email that he attended AIPAC and is now self-isolating at home "out of an abundance of caution," at least until he hears back from public health officials in Toronto who are working to trace someone who attended the conference and tested positive for the virus.

"I feel absolutely fine and it has already been a week since I left the conference," Housefather wrote.

The leader of the Official Opposition's office confirmed that Conservative MPs Kerry Diotte and Michael Cooper attended CPAC. Requests for comment from Diotte and Cooper about their trip to CPAC have not been answered.

CBC News asked Andrew Scheer's office if either of the Conservative MPs checked in with their local health agencies after learning about the positive case at the CPAC event.

Office spokesperson Kelsie Chiasson did not answer the question directly, saying instead that "neither MP Cooper nor MP Diotte were in contact or proximity to the individual in question. MPs will continue to follow the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada."

Diotte and Cooper were both on Parliament Hill today. Cooper attended a press conference on Parliament Hill Sunday with fellow Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Marty Morantz.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper says he didn't come into contact with the person at a U.S. conference who later tested positive for COVID-19. 1:32

At least two people who attended the AIPAC event, which ran March 1-3 in Washington D.C., have tested positive, while there is one positive case among attendees at CPAC, which ran Feb. 26-29 in the neighbouring state of Maryland.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper also attended AIPAC, spending time with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Requests for comment from Harper have not been returned.

There are no plans right now for additional measures on Parliament Hill to prevent possible exposure to the novel coronavirus despite the MPs' attendance at the AIPAC and CPAC conferences, said Heather Bradley, director of communications for the Speaker's Office.

The House of Commons does have a pandemic plan that it's prepared to implement if the situation gets worse, Bradley said.

"During the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, the House of Commons provided regular information on preventative and precautionary measures, liaised closely with Hill and health partners, increased cleaning protocols and installed additional hygiene signage," she told CBC News in an email.

MPs and staffers received an email from human resources on Friday that outlined guidelines for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A government official speaking on background downplayed the risk of exposure in Ottawa, saying that as long as people follow the Public Health Agency of Canada's advice, there should be no cause for additional concern.

"All Canadians should follow advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada and monitor their health when returning to the country," an official from Health Minister Patty Hajdu's office said in an email.

Risk to Canadians abroad 'generally low'

Scheer's office said Conservative MPs are being urged to do the same.

"We have not currently implemented any additional precautions," spokesperson Kelsie Chiasson said via e-mail. "MPs will continue to follow the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada."

The government of Canada's website says "the risk to Canadian travellers abroad is generally low but will vary depending on the destination."

Travellers returning from the United States are being advised to "exercise normal security precautions."

The government is urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China, Iran and Northern Italy because of the coronavirus.

The website urges travellers returning from other destinations to contact local public health authorities for advice if they experience symptoms.

AIPAC organizers reached out to attendees on Friday, confirming that two individuals from New York had later tested positive.

'No identified risk'

Public health officials in Washington are downplaying concerns about widespread exposure from that event.

"There is no identified risk to conference attendees at this time," says an official government website.

The website goes on to say the attendees were "... asymptomatic, meaning they were not experiencing symptoms like fever or cough, while they were in DC. The information provided to us by [New York authorities] indicates that both cases have no identifiable risk for anyone exposed to them.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper (centre) attends a press conference in Ottawa Sunday, March 8, 2020 with caucus colleagues Pierre Poilievre (right) and Marty Morantz. (CBC News)

"The guidance of these health professionals continue to be that all conference participants should follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and consult their health care providers if they feel ill or have medical questions."

Housefather told CBC News he received the official notice from AIPAC on Friday.

"I was not in close contact with anyone from New York," he said via email. "Public health in DC has put out a statement saying advice to attendees is the same as advice to all other Americans."

A statement from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says that his office has been working in coordination with the White House and the Centres for Disease Control on the CPAC case.

"Due to the scale of this conference, we are urging attendees who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to immediately reach out to their health care provider," said the statement. "We are providing this update not to unnecessarily raise alarm, but in the interest of full transparency and out of an abundance of caution."

Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar are both self-quarantining after attending CPAC and learning they both shook hands with a person who has since tested positive for the coronavirus.

"I'm not experiencing any symptoms and I feel fine and healthy," Cruz said in a statement posted on Twitter.

"Given that the interaction was 10 days ago, that the average incubation period is 5-6 days, that the interaction was for less than a minute, and that I have no current symptoms, the medical authorities have advised me that the odds of transmission from the other individual to me were extremely low.

"Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, and because of how frequently I interact with my constituents as part of my job and to give everyone peace of mind, I have decided to remain at my home in Texas this week until a full 14 days have passed since the CPAC interaction." 

Corrections

  • This story originally said Stephen Harper attended the CPAC conference. In fact, he attended the AIPAC conference.
    Mar 09, 2020 3:49 PM ET