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Rector of prominent Washington, D.C., church tests positive for coronavirus

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Washington — The first person to test positive for coronavirus in Washington, D.C., is the prominent leader of a historic Episcopal church in Georgetown, the church said Sunday.

The Reverend Timothy Cole, rector of Christ Church Georgetown, was diagnosed at the hospital Saturday night and is in stable condition, according to the Reverend Crystal Hardin, the assistant to the rector, who spoke at a press conference outside the church Sunday. 

In an email to parishioners obtained by CBS News, Cole confirmed he has tested positive, and said services were suspended "out of an abundance of caution for the most vulnerable among us." All services were canceled Sunday, the first time the church has closed since a fire in the 1800s, Hardin said. 

"I can now confirm that I am the individual who tested positive for the Coronavirus," Cole wrote in his email. "First, I want to assure you that I will be okay. 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."

The church was founded in 1817 and is a fixture of the upscale Washington community, with a congregation that includes many government officials. Cole has been rector of the church since 2016.

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Christ Church Georgetown on Sunday, March 8, 2020. CBS News

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the first known case of coronavirus in the nation's capital on Saturday, saying a man in his 50s was presumed to be infected. Cole was diagnosed with the flu several weeks ago, Hardin said, and told of the coronavirus diagnosis on Saturday. 

"We know that whether we meet here in person on a Sunday morning or whether we meet in spirit not one of us is alone because we have each other. We firmly believe that we are held in God's embrace through it all," she said. "We are praying for all those affected, all those who are in fear and all of the medical professionals and researchers and community members who are trying to find solutions."

Cole himself informed the church of his diagnosis and confirmed he has not traveled internationally. Hardin said the church was working to notify parishioners of Cole's diagnosis and urged members not to panic.

"Most people if they take the precautions recommended by the CDC, which can be found on their website, will remain in relatively good health," she said. "We just need to make sure we're doing what we can to protect the most vulnerable."

The D.C. Department of Health said in a statement that it has been in contact with the church and "determined an individual's visitation to Christ Church Georgetown warrants precautionary measures." The department recommended "a temporary pause of services" and said it was "conducting an intensive investigation to identify any exposures to COVID-19 that may have occurred at the church," referring to the virus.

There are more than 107,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide and 460 in the United States. Cases have been confirmed in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Delon Thornton, Carol Joynt, Stephen Smith and Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.

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