The new coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — officially came the nation's capital over the weekend with news that an Episcopal priest had tested positive for the disease, and now hundreds people who attended services at his church are being urged to self-quarantine.
"DC Health was notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal," a Monday statement from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's office said. "Through DC Health's investigation, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all visitors to Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal on February 24th, and between February 28th and March 3rd could have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, and DC Health is recommending that anyone who visited Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal on those dates isolate themselves at home for 14 days from the last time they visited the church."
The statement added, "Isolating at home includes not going to work or school, and not attending any large or public gatherings, or using public transportation or ride-sharing."
According to a report from WUSA-TV, the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the District of Columbia was the church's rector, the Rev. Timothy Cole, who was diagnosed with the virus on Saturday. The station explained that Cole started feeling bad on Feb. 24 after coming back from a trip to a conference in Kentucky and that doctors diagnosed him with the flu and pneumonia before he tested positive for coronavirus.
A Christ Church spokesman said that Cole attended three services on the Sunday before he was diagnosed, which were attended by more than 550 people, according to WUSA. The church told the Washington Post that he provided communion at one of those services.
In response to the diagnosis, the church announced via a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon that it would suspend "all activities including church services until further notice," and noted that the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution."
"I can now confirm that I am the individual who tested positive for the Coronavirus," Cole said in a statement to parishioners on Sunday. "First, I want to assure you that I will be OK. I am receiving excellent care and am in good spirits under the circumstances." The rector explained that both he and his family would remain under quarantine for the next 14 days.
"There is no need to panic," Cole said elsewhere in the statement. "Following sensible precautions provided by the CDC will go a long way toward insuring the good health of our community."
Christ Church Georgetown was founded in 1817, according to the church website. At a press conference Sunday, a church official said that the canceled services mark the first time the church had been closed since a fire in the 1800s, CBS News reported.