Mayor Muriel Bowser confirmed the first “presumptive positive” case of COVID-19 in the District during a press conference Saturday.
The patient, a male D.C. resident in his 50s, did not appear to have a history of recent international travel or close contact with anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, Bowser said. She added that D.C. Department of Health is now “contact tracing” – identifying people who may have had contact with COVID-19 infected individuals – and planning the next steps in response to the presumptive positive result.
Bowser added that officials are also aware of people who visited the District and later tested positive for COVID-19, like another man in his 50s who tested positive for the virus at a Maryland hospital after recently spending time in D.C.
“We are making our best effort to work with the health departments of states where patients test positive to understand if there was any exposure in D.C.,” she said.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the D.C. patient with COVID-19 is Rector Timothy Cole, the highest-ranking clergy at Christ Church Georgetown, an Episcopal church. Cole has been hospitalized since Thursday in stable condition, and church officials are reaching out to congregants and have canceled Sunday services, The Post reported.
Eleven people in the District – including Cole – are currently being monitored and have been tested for COVID-19, according to the latest data from the public health lab in the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences. Ten of the 11 tests came back negative, according to the lab.
Bowser said she will not yet declare a state of emergency because the unique structure of D.C.’s government gives her the ability to allocate resources to address COVID-19 without taking that drastic step. She said events like the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which attracts about 1.5 million visitors a year to D.C., will continue as planned.
Bowser said officials’ response to COVID-19 is “fluid,” and the D.C. health department has the “discretion” to take action to protect the District’s residents. She said public health officials are closely monitoring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and will react accordingly.
“I will be very sure that our health department has checked and double-checked to make sure that we’re making the tests available to everyone who meets the guidelines, but if there are special circumstances that present, that they will get a hard look from us and be implemented to test if the situation warrants it,” Bowser said.
Bowser advised D.C. residents to frequently wash their hands, to avoid touching their faces, to stay home if they are not feeling well and to call health care centers in advance if they suspect they have COVID-19.
A GW Hospital patient alleged in a Facebook post Saturday that D.C. Department of Health officials refused to test her for COVID-19. Anjali Talwalkar, the principal senior deputy director for D.C. Department of Health, said at the press conference that the patient did not fit the CDC’s criteria for COVID-19 testing because she had only been to a South Korean airport and did not venture elsewhere in the country.
“We look at where they actually were in that country, where they were actually exposed to, what communities outside of an airport that they were actually experiencing to assess their risk,” Talwalkar said.
Avi Bajpai and Lia DeGroot contributed reporting.