Three coronavirus cases in people returning from AIPAC; one is in Los Angeles


BP Photo by Maia Lefferman

CROWD: According AIPAC’s website, more than 18,000 people, including 51 Shalhevet students, attended AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., last week. Also there were some who had been in contact with a coronavirus patient in New York, and who were quarantined on their return.

Los Angeles County health officials announced today that one person from Los Angeles has tested positive for coronavirus after returning from last week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, D.C. — a conference which was attended by 51 students from Shalhevet.

Also, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills announced it would hold no on-campus classes at least through Thursday, March 12, because a parent of one of its students has contracted the virus “from outside LA county,” according to an email from the school.

“In speaking directly with the LA County Health Department, we were advised not to be alarmed,” said the Hillel email, which was received by many Shalhevet families associated with the school.

 “The family members are required to be in quarantine and the parent with the virus is in isolation at home,” the email stated.  “The Health Department has not required us to close school,but in an abundance of caution, we have decided, effective immediately, that we will not open school.” 

The Boiling Point was unable to determine for certain whether the Hillel parent is the same person who the health department says contracted coronavirus — also known as COVID-19 — at AIPAC.

But the health department does say an AIPAC attendee contracted the illness there.  

“The additional positive case in LA County is a resident who recently returned from attending the AIPAC Conference in Washington, D.C. where there was a known exposure to a person who was positive for COVID-19” said a department statement said.

Also, Boiling Point sources who did not want to be named said that it was the same person, as did an email from Gindi Maimonides Academy, another local Jewish middle school. 

“We are aware that a parent of a neighboring Jewish Day School has tested positive for the Coronavirus,” said the Maimonides email. “Baruch Hashem, he is already recovering and his family has not been sick at all — nor shown any symptoms of carrying the virus…The Health Department has informed us that this community member contracted the virus at the AIPAC conference — and not before that.”

Two other AIPAC attendees, both from New York, had also tested positive as of Sunday, according to the AIPAC email.

The current number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles county, according to the LA County Department of Public Health, is now 14. 


Dr. Julie Higashi, the L.A. health department’s Tuberculosis Controller, said there is currently not enough disease spread in the Los Angeles community to necessitate a school shutdown for Shalhevet, which will hold all classes tomorrow via Google Hangouts as a “preparedness drill” in case of school actually being cancelled.

“We’re just trying to prepare people that there may be disruptions in their lives,” said Dr. Higashi. “Some schools might shut down. But for now, we’re not recommending that because we don’t have the evidence that there is widespread transmission in the community.”

Firehawks for Israel president Sabrina Jahan, who attended the entire conference in Washington, D.C., March 1 – 3, said Saturday evening that she had not been informed by AIPAC about the LA case.  

When she learned of them from the Boiling Point, she said she was concerned mostly for older relatives.

“I’m not really concerned for me — I am concerned for my grandparents and my great grandparents,” said Sabrina, who then cancelled an overnight visit with her grandparents because of the news. “From what I understand the virus doesn’t affect children and people our age  — well the symptoms may affect them, but it isn’t necessarily deadly.” 

According to the AIPAC website, a total of 18,000 people, including students, synagogue members and government officials including Vice President Mike Pence, attended the conference, which included lobbying Congress members, workshops and keynote speakers.

Some schools might shut down. But for now, we’re not recommending that because we don’t have the evidence that there is widespread transmission in the community.

— Dr. Julie Higashi, Tuberculosis Controller at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Most Shalhevet students and faculty, many with their families, returned Tuesday night March 3.

On Wednesday, they received an email from AIPAC letting them know that attendees from New York, where there has been an outbreak at Young Israel of New Rochelle, had tested positive for coronavirus when they returned home.

AIPAC’s email said its officials had been told by the DC Health Department that any exposure at the conference was considered “low-risk.”

“We have been made aware that a group of Policy Conference attendees from New York was potentially in contact prior to the conference with an individual who contracted coronavirus,” said the AIPAC email, sent Mar. 4 at 2:36.

“That individual did not attend Policy Conference… To our knowledge, no one who attended the conference has tested positive for coronavirus at this time.”

Shalhevet students said there had been rumors during the conference that an infection risk was present at the conference.  But with no official information or reason not to, students returned to school on Wednesday.

Senior Jacqueline Englanoff was not surprised to learn about positive tests among AIPAC attendees from New York. 

“I’ve been talking with people about this even during AIPAC,” Jacqueline said after returning to Los Angeles. “We kind of all saw it coming because there were so many people, especially after the word about the New York people — we all kind of foresaw all this happening.

“And we were just waiting for that letter to come out that it was actually true, and so it definitely made it more real though when the email came out but I guess we kinda saw it coming.”


It is unclear when the new cases might have contracted the disease, or whether they were symptomatic at the conference, or whether they have symptoms now.It is also still unclear how many days prior to symptoms showing an individual can be contagious, but the CDC says on their website that this is possible. 

“Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms,” the CDC says on their “How COVID-19 Spreads” page. “There have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus.” 

A news release from the DC Health Department in Washington includes this quote but says that those individuals did not pose a risk because they did not show symptoms. 

“They were asymptomatic, meaning they were not experiencing symptoms like fever or cough, while they were in DC,” says the release. “The information provided to us by NY indicates that both cases have no identifiable risk for anyone exposed to them.”

Dr. Higashi said that not enough details about the situation were known for her to make a judgement on which department was right. 

“Without knowing the details of who was where at what time, I can’t comment on whether DC is framing it correctly,” said Dr. Higashi, who is the mother of Shalhevet senior Kiku Shaw. 

She did say that if someone did not have symptoms there could still be a contagion risk.  A Chinese study published Feb. 21 reported a case in which a mother who was asymptomatic transmitted the virus to her children. 

The other two attendees who tested positive were confirmed by AIPAC to have been from New York, where many cases have resulted from one man living in New Rochelle, in Westchester county who was diagnosed with the virus in late February. That man’s son is the infected student at YU, and his daughter attends SAR High School in Riverdale.

Both schools have been closed. 

Separately, YULA Girls High School announced that it was cancelling its upcoming national Jewish girls volleyball tournament.

“Out of an abundance of caution we have decided to cancel the Volleyball tournament this Spring and will be postponing it until Fall (September) due to Coronavirus,” wrote YULA Girls Athletic Director Alexandra Novak.

I’ve been talking with people about this….We kind of all saw it coming because there were so many people, especially after the word about the New York people — we all kind of foresaw all this happening.

— Jacqueline Englanoff, 12th grade

According to the New York Times, there are 70 cases in Westchester county and 89 in New York state.

The Boiling Point has learned that one of the newly diagnosed AIPAC attendees is a professor at Yeshiva University. The professor sent an email to his students March 6 saying that he had shaken hands with someone who “has now tested positive.” 

“I was cleared to go to the AIPAC conference March 1- 3,” the professor said in the email, which was viewed by the Boiling Point. “At that conference, I now know that I [shook] someone’s hand that has now tested positive. Due to that and with an abundance of caution I went to get tested a two days ago, the tests came back late last night and have come back as positive for me.”

The professor was confident that he had not infected any students.

“I have been in quarantine in my home in a separate room from my family,” the professor’s email stated. “I will now have to remain in quarantine for 14 days, I think.  None of you have been exposed. I have not been in school since before the exposure.”

A roadblock so far for people with coronavirus symptoms to get tested has been the limited number of testing kits available. The Food and Drugs Administration announced last week that labs outside the CDC would be allowed to produce testing kits. On Friday, Quest and Labcorp, two large clinical testing companies, announced they would be making kits. 

Dr. Higashi says that this would allow for more people to be tested.

“The tests should be widely available to all types of physicians,” said Dr. Higashi. “I would anticipate that a lot more people will gain access to the tests. We just have to be patient right now.”

This story won First Prize in Breaking News Coverage in the 2020 Simon J. Rockower Awards of the American Jewish Press Association.