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Coronavirus concerns force five Florida lawmakers to self-isolate — but not for long

After clearing out the House chamber to disinfect the members’ desks, it was then abruptly announced that they were considered “low risk” and they returned.
Staff, plus Rep. Cary Pigman, who is a doctor, disinfect desks on the House floor after the Speaker made an announcement that five members will be self-quarantining. Emily L. Mahoney | Times
Staff, plus Rep. Cary Pigman, who is a doctor, disinfect desks on the House floor after the Speaker made an announcement that five members will be self-quarantining. Emily L. Mahoney | Times [ Emily L. Mahoney ]
Published Mar. 9, 2020
Updated Mar. 9, 2020

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TALLAHASSEE — Five members of the Florida House of Representatives plus one staff member attended events in Washington, D.C., where people were detected as having the coronavirus.

Since they were not showing symptoms, those members were in self-isolation, according to House Speaker José Oliva.

After their House colleagues expressed concern, those affected agreed to sequester themselves so they don’t come into contact with other people, according to House spokesman Fred Piccolo.

The members are Reps. Thad Altman of Indialantic, Anthony Sabatini of Howey-in-the-Hills, Byron Donalds of Naples, Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach and Kionne McGhee of Miami.

About 15 minutes after Oliva made the announcement, the members were determined to be “low risk” and reentered the chamber to continue session. Rep. Cary Pigman, an emergency medicine doctor, said the members spoke with Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees who said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not mandate that they be tested.

Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters Monday there was also a senator at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but did not disclose who. It was also disclosed Monday that U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz came into contact with an attendee at CPAC who tested positive for COVID-19.

At least some of those members who briefly self-isolated on Monday were on the House floor casting votes before Oliva’s announcement.

Oliva said those who were to be self isolated did not stay at the same hotel where a person who has coronavirus stayed, and that they are not showing any symptoms.

After the announcement, all members were asked to leave the chamber and the public galleries were emptied. Staff members wearing long-sleeved blue medical gowns, gloves and face masks entered the House floor and wiped down desks.

All the members except Donalds and McGhee had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference. McGhee and Donalds attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week in Washington D.C., according to a House spokesman. Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, also attended the AIPAC conference.

McGhee said he knows a lobbyist who had been tested for novel coronavirus in Miami, but that he wasn’t showing symptoms while at the conference.

Two attendees of AIPAC’s recent Washington conference have tested positive for coronavirus, the organization announced Friday.

CPAC was held February 26 through 29 in National Harbor, MD.

During an interview with the Times/Herald, Pigman entered the office, and urged McGhee out. McGhee finished the interview and left with Pigman.

“Right now I’m just trying to gather information, as you’re gathering information,” the Miami Democrat said.

Soon after, it was announced that McGhee would enter a self-isolation period.

Donalds, who attended AIPAC with McGhee, said “we’re all fine, good in spirits.”

He said the self isolation was “just a precaution” and that he is not showing any symptoms.

“We’re just gonna follow the orders of the DOH in Florida,” he said. “We’re just really waiting to get info about what the protocol is gonna be.”

Times/Herald staff writers Lawrence Mower and Mary Ellen Klas and Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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