Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9 a.m., March 9.
“I can now confirm that I am the individual [in Washington, D.C.] who tested positive for the coronavirus,” the Rev. Tim Cole, rector of Christ Church in Georgetown, wrote in an email to his parishioners at noon on Sunday, March 8. This was just hours after the church leadership had informed parishioners in an early-morning email that “All services and meetings at Christ Church have been suspended until further notice in response to a presumed positive case of coronavirus in our community.”
As of Monday, D.C. government urged Christ Church parishioners who had been in contact (within six feet) with Cole to self-quarantine.
At a late-evening press conference on Saturday, Mayor Muriel Bowser had announced that D.C. forensic scientists had diagnosed the District’s first case of coronavirus. “The patient is a city resident in his 50s who appears to have not traveled outside the United States,” she said. “At this point, he appears to have no history of international travel and no close contacts with a confirmed case. The patient started having symptoms in ‘late February’ and was admitted to a D.C. hospital on Thursday.”
“I want to assure you that I will be okay,” Cole wrote. “I am receiving excellent care and am in good spirits under the circumstances. I will remain quarantined for the next 14 days as will the rest of my family.
“We did not make the decision to close our doors lightly, but out of an abundance of caution for the most vulnerable among us … There is no need to panic. Following sensible precautions provided by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] will go a long way towards insuring the good health of our community.
“The obvious question at this point is what you should do. First, please read the information provided on the CDC’s website, linked here. If we are given any firm advice by public health officials, we will pass it to the Christ Church community as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have been asked to let parishioners know that should you experience any symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider,” wrote Cole, who ended his missive, “Faithfully, The Reverend Tim Cole.”
According to church spokesman Rob Volmer, Cole fell ill shortly after attending an Episcopal conference in Louisville on Feb. 22. Cole felt better after returning to Georgetown and participated in several church events, including four services attended by some 550 people on March 1. But then Cole’s health deteriorated after Sunday. He was diagnosed with the flu and admitted to Georgetown University Hospital on Thursday. His test for coronavirus came back positive on Sunday morning, March 8.
It is not known how the church rector got the virus, and D.C. health officials are conducting an extensive investigation of his contacts and the church sanctuary. At the corner of 31st and O Streets NW, Christ Church was founded in 1818. Its worshippers include many well-known Georgetowners and Washingtonians.
Cole’s symptoms were those identified by the CDC as usual for both the virus and the flu, namely a runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and a high fever. People with those symptoms and who have been in or around someone with the coronavirus are urged to see a doctor who can order a test for the disease.
In most cases to date, the coronavirus has had mild effects. But the elderly, especially those in fragile health, are particularly vulnerable to more serious, even fatal, cases.
In a new development, the D.C. public school School Without Walls announced it would be closed for a deep cleaning on Monday, March 9. A man — so-called Patient 2 — recently arrived from Nigeria and became the second confirmed case of coronavirus in D.C. He had reportedly close contacts with people at the school for a day last week, before going to Maryland, where he is currently hospitalized. The decision to close and clean the school was made due to “an abundance of caution,” according to the school.