New Jersey confirms state’s first death from coronavirus

Hawaii state Department of Health microbiologist Mark Nagata demonstrates the process for testing a sample for coronavirus at the department's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Audrey McAvoy/AP Photo)

Hawaii state Department of Health microbiologist Mark Nagata demonstrates the process for testing a sample for coronavirus at the department's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Audrey McAvoy/AP Photo)

Updated 2 p.m.

A 69-year-old Bergen County man with a history of health problems has died from the novel coronavirus, the first fatality from the illness in New Jersey, state officials announced Tuesday.

The man did not have a history of traveling outside the U.S. but had traveled to New York, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with the family,” Persichilli said.

Including the man who died, the Garden State had a total of 15 presumptive positive cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver announced. Two of the new cases were in Bergen County and two were in Burlington County.

Updated 3:44 p.m.

Although the number of coronavirus cases in the Garden State has increased, Persichilli said so far there was no evidence the virus is spreading within local communities. State health officials were still conducting “contact tracing” to investigate how each patient contracted the virus.

New Jersey has 31 people under investigation waiting to be tested.

Persichilli said the state’s 24-hour hotline staffed by trained health care workers able to answer questions about coronavirus has received 3,200 calls, including more than 600 calls Monday night. The hotline phone number is 1-800-222-1222.

Officials said that if you feel sick, you should call your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Residents can protect themselves by washing their hands thoroughly, avoiding people who are sick, and staying home from work if they feel under the weather, officials said.

The announcement came shortly before Rutgers University, the state’s largest public university, announced it was canceling classes beginning on Thursday and switching all classes to remote instruction after students return from spring break on March 23. The university urged students living in dorms to “leave campus as soon as possible” and not come back until at least April 3.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been recuperating from surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney, declared a state of emergency related to coronavirus, which officials said makes state resources more readily available and allows law enforcement to better crack down on price gouging.

“We have been in front of this throughout the weeks of preparations and, as the governor said yesterday, the emergency declaration means that we will stay ahead of this,” Lt. Gov. Oliver said Tuesday.

Oliver added that the state was waiving all co-pays or cost-shares for screening and testing related to coronavirus, and she urged private health insurers to do the same. She also said the state Department of Corrections was considering banning contact visits with prisoners but had not done so yet.

The Bergen County man who died had a history of hypertension, atrial fibrillation, gastrointestinal bleeding, and emphysema. He went to his doctor a week ago with a fever and a cough. He took antibiotics and Tamiflu but his condition did not improve.

On March 6, he was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center and underwent testing for coronavirus a day later. The man died Tuesday morning following a cardiac arrest.

This developing story will be updated.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.