Medstar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) is treating a patient that has been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to a university-wide email sent by Chief Public Health Officer Vince Winklerprins on March 8.
The D.C. Mayor’s Office confirmed on March 7 that the patient, Rector Timothy Cole, a resident of the Georgetown neighborhood, contracted a case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Cole, who preaches at Christ Church of Georgetown, located less than a mile from the university front gates, was hospitalized Thursday and tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, the Mayor’s Office said.
This case appears amid increasing concern over the global spread of the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Public health measures, including closing of schools, workplaces, and public events, are becoming increasingly common as the global number of cases tops 100,000. As of March 10, there are 570 confirmed cases in 36 U.S. states. So far, 26 U.S. deaths have been caused by COVID-19.
According to The Atlantic, as of Tuesday, state public health officials could only confirm that 4,384 individuals have been tested for the coronavirus nationwide. Confirmed cases may not fully indicate the extent of the virus’ spread in the U.S.
While Cole has the first positive case of COVID-19 in D.C., seven other cases in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have been reported as of March 8. Three patients from Montgomery County, Maryland have been confirmed to have the virus, while three presumed cases in Virginia are under investigation.
Cole is being treated by a team of clinicians in isolation. According to the university email, all infection control protocols are in effect in MGUH.
According to the Mayor’s Office, Cole is in his fifties and is not known to have travelled internationally or been in contact with another infected individual. This may indicate community spread of the coronavirus.
Last week, Cole attended three services with approximately 550 people in attendance.
On March 5, the day he was hospitalized, Cole sent a list of precautions from the Diocese regarding the sanitary distribution of communion. Since the confirmation of his virus, Christ Church Georgetown has cancelled all church activities.
The Catholic Ministry at Georgetown sent an email Sunday announcing changes to services in light of the spread of the coronavirus, including the reception of Communion in the hands rather than the mouth and a recommendation attendees do not hold or shake hands during the service.
No Georgetown employees or students have tested positive for the virus.
“We will continue to evaluate the situation on a daily basis and update you as needed. Please be aware that we are working in a rapidly changing environment, and we may need to amend our policies on short notice,” the email read.
In situations such as this one, when cases of COVID-19 are present in the community, the Department of Education (ED) advises universities to “determine if, when, and for how long the IHE [institute of higher education] may need to suspend classes and postpone or cancel events and activities.”
These decisions, ED says, should be made “in close collaboration with local health officials.”
This story is ongoing and will be updated.
Annemarie Cuccia contributed reporting.
Image Credits: Deborah Han