Coronavirus spreads on the East Coast: DC’s first patient is a minister, New York City firefighters banned from responding to COVID-19 cases
03/10/2020 // Franz Walker // Views

While last week’s focus has been mainly on the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the West Coast – especially in Washington state where it first hit the country, disturbing news over the weekend revealed that it has already made its way to cities on the East Coast: Washington D.C. has reported its first case of the virus, meanwhile a few hundred miles north, New York City has enacted a drastic measure to stop the spread of the disease among emergency workers.

Minister becomes D.C.’s first coronavirus case, hundreds at risk

Reverend Timothy Cole of Christ Church, an Episcopal church in Washington D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, was diagnosed with COVID-19 Saturday evening. The reverend is currently in stable condition, according to his assistant, Reverend Crystal Hardin.

“I can now confirm that I am the individual who tested positive for the coronavirus,” said Cole in an email to CBS News. “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.”

Cole represents the first reported case of COVID-19 in the capital. However, his position as the minister may have put hundreds of visitors to the Episcopal church at risk as Cole served communion and shook hands with attendees during services. In response to this, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser suggested that any recent visitors to Christ Church should self-quarantine themselves.

“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,” said Bowser. “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.”


In the meantime, all services have been canceled at the church starting Sunday -- the first time since the 1800s after being razed in a fire.

NYC firefighters banned from responding to cases where coronavirus is involved

As Washington D.C. comes to grips with the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in the city, New York City is now enacting a controversial measure to prevent the virus from spreading among its emergency workers. On Friday, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) issued an order that temporarily relieves all firefighters from responding to calls of the second-highest priority for patients with cough, fever, difficulty breathing or who may even be unconscious. Cough, fever and difficulty with breathing are the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

“It seems like a logical way to reduce the number of people who come in close contact with coronavirus patients,” stated City Councilman Joseph Borelli, chairman of the city’s fire and emergency management committee. “Someone complaining of flu-like symptoms doesn’t need an engine company with five firefighters.”

Meanwhile, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer clarified that the order does not cover the highest priority cases. Dwyer confirmed that FDNY firefighters would continue to respond to all high priority calls, including cardiac and respiratory arrests, choking, and trauma incidents, regardless of whether or not they’re potential COVID-19 calls.

The EMTs and paramedics who’ll end up shouldering most of the burden, however, have a different view and believe that the order will simply further strain the system. The FDNY is currently experiencing a shortage of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers such as EMTs and paramedics due to the positions’ low pay and the resulting exodus of EMS to become firefighters.  (Related: New York Emergency Room Doctor: There Will Be “Thousands” Of Confirmed Cases In The U.S. “By Next Week.”)

“It puts everyone at risk. It puts EMS workers at risk, when we don’t have the resources,” said Anthony Almojera, EMS lieutenant in Sunset Park and vice president of Local 3621 of the FDNY Uniformed EMS Officers. “It puts the lives of New Yorkers at risk if they’re not on scene.”

Sources include: 1 2

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