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Coronavirus: Meet Washington DC’s COVID-19 ‘patient zero’

Reverend Timothy Cole had been at a church conference in Louisville, Kentucky, with clergy from all over the country at the end of February.

He returned home to Washington DC and started to feel like he had the flu.

“I went to bed for three days, the fever broke, I waited another 24 hours and got up, felt fine. I went back to work,” he said.

What he didn’t realise at the time was that he was about to become the US capital’s coronavirus “patient zero”.

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Originally from Edinburgh, Reverend Cole moved to Washington three years ago to become the rector at Christ Church, Georgetown.


Following the Kentucky conference he continued to deliver sermons to his flock before he realised how sick he really was. He eventually collapsed and was rushed to hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19.

“You’re just going along the highway of normality and then suddenly you get whacked and you find yourself on this really small dark path and you’ve got no choice but to go down it,” Reverend Cole said.

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He spent 21 days in hospital, where he was given oxygen and placed in the intensive care unit.

“The thing about this disease is the doctors really can’t do very much. You’re sitting round waiting for your body to get better or worse.”

On the 7 March, Washington’s mayor announced that coronavirus had arrived in the city. Reverend Cole was the first patient in DC. Cases in New York, California and Texas have been linked to the same church conference he attended.

Image: Reverend Cole and his wife Lorraine Pic: Lorraine Cole

The reverend also discovered that his church organist and four other parishioners were infected.

“I was thinking about the people who got the virus after me and the inconvenience people had to go through.

“The whole congregation was quarantined for two weeks because of me.”

Washington DC now has over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the mayor has issued a stay-at-home order.

“I was the first case in Washington so obviously it wasn’t something that I expected. It was a bit of a shock,” Reverend Cole said.

He and his wife, Lorraine, are grateful for the congregation’s reaction to his diagnosis.

“They stood beside us and prayed for us. They have been a tremendous support and lavished us with affection and kindness.”

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The former British army chaplain will be delivering a virtual reading at Christ Church this Easter.

“It’s so sad this church, which is 200 years old, will be shut for Easter Sunday for the first time.

“Who knows when I’ll stand in the pulpit again.”


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