A U.S. billionaire who was granted a special exemption from Canada’s 14-day pandemic quarantine, despite her public criticism of COVID-19 restrictions, has now contracted the disease.
Liz Uihlein, the 75-year-old president and CEO of Wisconsin-based shipping supply firm Uline Inc., sent a memo to employees on Nov. 11 informing them that she and her husband, Dick Uihlein, had tested positive and were isolating at home.
“After all these long months, I thought we’d never get it. Well, Trump got it…” reads the company-wide email, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News. “If we had not been around people with COVID-19, we would not have been tested. We would have been at Uline.”
The memo says the pair, who started the company in their basement in 1980 and grew it to an almost $6 billion US a year business, intend to return to the office on Nov. 19.
In September, a CBC News Investigation revealed that Liz Uihlein and two other company executives flew to Toronto on a private jet in late August for a three-day visit to Uline’s facility in Milton, Ont., and were granted an exemption from Canada’s mandatory 14-day COVID quarantine.
Halton Regional Police were called to the building to investigate claims that the U.S. visitors were holding large group meetings without masks, but it’s not clear if any action was taken.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair subsequently said that the trip “should not have been permitted,” blaming the mistake on front-line Canada Border Services Agency officers and vowing to tighten entry policies.
CBC News has since uncovered other special exemptions that were granted to U.S.-based executives by CBSA agents, and even government ministers.
Denials about attendance at White House event
Liz Uihlein’s reference to Trump in her memo to employees, and the timing of the couple’s COVID diagnosis — just a week after the U.S. election — has fuelled speculation that the pair might have contracted the coronavirus at a White House “victory” celebration on Nov. 3 that has been linked to at least a half-dozen infections among the president’s inner circle.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel initially reported that the Uihleins had attended the event, which saw some 150, mostly maskless people packed into the White House’s East Room. The paper later updated their story to include a denial from a Uline spokesperson.
But flight tracking data obtained by CBC News shows that the Uihleins’ private Dassault Falcon 2000EX jet — the same plane used for the August trip to Toronto — took off from Waukegan International Airport, near the company headquarters and the Uihlein’s Illinois home, on the afternoon of Nov. 3, landing at Dulles airport near Washington, D.C., an hour and a half later.
The jet returned to Waukegan early on the morning of Nov. 4.
A Uline spokeswoman confirmed the couple’s COVID diagnosis, telling CBC News that Liz Uihlein contracted the illness “from a friend,” having been exposed earlier in the month. The spokeswoman said the couple did not attend the White House event, but she declined to answer questions about why their jet flew to Washington that day.
Top Republican donors
Liz and Dick Uihlein rank among the top Republican Party donors, having given $65.5 million over the 2020 election cycle, second only to Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.
Liz Uihlein, who has served as an economic advisor to President Donald Trump, has echoed some of the White House’s concerns about coronavirus restrictions and the economy, complaining that government-mandated shutdowns have been costly and disruptive for business.
“It’s overhyped,” she told the Guardian newspaper in April. “And I don’t wish anybody ill will. You know I don’t wish that, but I think it hurts certain ages in certain places and largely in a lot of parts of the world. In the country it’s not as rampant as the press would have you make it.”