Hundreds in DC asked to quarantine after exposure in church

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 12:46 PM EDT
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Several hundred people are being asked to self-quarantine after potential exposure to the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the nation's capital, identified as the rector of prominent Episcopal church.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that anyone who entered Christ Church Georgetown on Feb. 24 or between Feb. 28 and March 3 is requested to self-quarantine for two weeks from the date of their entrance to the church.

Officials on Saturday had announced the district’s first positive test, but identified the victim only as a man in his 50s. A second local positive test involves a man who visited the Washington area from Nigeria, but he was being hospitalized in Maryland.

Rev. Timothy Cole, the church rector, announced Sunday that he was the person whom city officials had been referring to as “patient 1.” He remains hospitalized in stable condition and the church has canceled all activities until further notice.

Dr. Anjali Talwalker of the Washington Health Department said Monday that an exposure risk is defined as coming within six feet of a person with active virus symptoms.

“Several hundred people were potentially impacted,” she said.

A Washington high school linked to the second case was closed Monday, though no new confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported. Three people who stayed at the same house as the Nigerian man who tested positive in Maryland were tested Sunday and all were negative. But one of them works at the School Without Walls High School. Bowser said the school was closed for a deep cleaning and to give time to communicate with staff and parents; she expects the school to re-open Tuesday.

Two charter schools in Washington, D.C., also voluntarily closed on Monday but there have been no reported or suspected virus cases linked to either.

Two Republican members of Congress — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona — have announced that they would self-quarantine after coming in contact with an infected person during the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

Bowser said she was “evaluating" whether to declare a ”public health emergency" if the virus continues to spread. As both a mayor and the de-facto governor of a quasi-state, Bowser has more powers than the average city mayor. Formally declaring a health emergency would enable her to impose quarantines and closures and also take steps to prevent price gouging on supplies, she said.

“I don't believe that's where we are right now,” Bowser said.

On Sunday, Maryland reported two new cases, raising to five the total confirmed cases in the state. Virginia reported its second case.

In Maryland's new cases, a Harford County resident in her 80s who contracted the virus while traveling overseas was hospitalized, officials said. A Montgomery County resident in his 60s who contracted the virus while traveling overseas was also briefly hospitalized.

Virginia recorded its first case Saturday when a Marine stationed at Quantico was found to have the virus. He was taken to Fort Belvoir for treatment. On Sunday, Virginia officials announced a second case involving a Fairfax man in his 80s who took a Nile River cruise. On Monday, officials announced a third case, involving an Arlington County resident in their 60s.

“All three cases were exposed through international travel,” said a statement Monday from the Virginia Department of Health.