Clergy member of Fort Worth church is ‘presumptive positive’ case for COVID-19 in Tarrant County

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has confirmed that a clergy member of Trinity Episcopal Church was the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 coronavirus in Tarrant County.

Dr. Robert Pace, rector of Trinity Episcopal, attended the annual conference for the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) last month in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Pace started feeling sick after returning from the conference and tested negative for the flu twice.

On Saturday, March 7, it was then announced that the rector of Christ Church Georgetown had tested positive for COVID-19, and he had attended CEEP. Pace was then tested for COVID-19 on Monday, and the presumptive positive came back.

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Pace remains hospitalized in isolation while his wife, the Rev. Dr. Jill Walters, has tested negative, according to church officials. She will remain in self-quarantine at home for 14 days as a precaution.

Speaking on behalf of the diocese, Rev. Janet Waggoner said Pace was starting to feel better on Wednesday, March 4, and led a class at the church of about 45 parishioners. All those who attended have been notified. Though church officials said he only had close contact with the associate priest and the deacon.

“He had been home several days before February 27, when he became ill, and went to the doctor and tested negative for the flu,” Waggoner said.

Health officials said that based on their exposure to Pace, the rest of the congregation is “at no risk.”

Days later, Pace went to the hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Then a presumptive positive test for COVID-19.

“It was in the front of our minds. We know the age demographics in our congregations trend older. We value our elders, so we want to take care of those who are most vulnerable,” Waggoner said.

Trinity Episcopal Church Fort Worth was a polling site for Super Tuesday, but church officials said Pace had not been in the church for five days before the election. Election officials also brought in their own tables, chairs, and election equipment.

Trinity has closed the church building and offices to the public, and Sunday’s services have been canceled, along with the Lenten program on Wednesday. It’s not yet known when the building will be reopened.

“We’ve been proactive with having sanitizer out, plenty of hand washing stations, emphasizing these preventative measures long before we got this news,” said Sarah Martinez, with Trinity Episcopal.

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Trinity’s preschool is on Spring Break this week, and the church said the preschool students had no exposure to Pace.

When Pace returned to the church building to speak on March 4, his office, along with the lectern, microphone, chair, and piano bench, were wiped down as a precaution.

“In this current situation, you never know if you are going to be the one who needs help or you are going to be the one who has the opportunity to help. This parable is about making good of the opportunity that we have,” Waggoner said.

Church leaders said services will most likely be streamed Sunday.