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Coronavirus Update: N.J. Announces First COVID-19 Death

LITTLE FERRY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver on Tuesday announced the first New Jersey death in a case of COVID-19.

The individual is identified as 69-year-old John Brennan, who Bergen County officials said was from Little Ferry.

"We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey. Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can -- across all levels of government -- to protect the people of New Jersey," Murphy and Oliver said in a statement.

Added Rep. Josh Gottheimer: "Our hospitals, health facilities, frontline medical professionals, communities, and state and federal government are all working to help make sure this outbreak is contained and to keep New Jersey residents safe."

John Brennan's family said he loved horses, having trained them for 40 years - most recently at Yonkers Raceway.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, a moment of silence was held in Little Ferry where Brennan called home.

"We know that he was not married," said Little Ferry Mayor Mauro Raguseo. "He didn't have children or grandchildren. To the best of our knowledge didn't frequent houses of worship."

Web Extra: New Jersey Reports 1st Coronavirus Death In Tri-State

Oliver and Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli disclosed more details about the state's first death during a coronavirus briefing with the media.

Perischilli said the victim had several underlying conditions, including a history of diabetes, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, gastrointestinal bleeding, and emphysema.

He also had no history of travel outside the United States, but he did travel back and forth to New York.

"He presented a week ago with fever and cough to his primary care physician, was treated with antibiotics and Tamiflu. He did not improve and was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center on March 6," Perischilli said.

CORONAVIRUS: CDC Latest | NY Health Dept. | NYC Health Dept. | NY Hotline: 1-888-364-3065 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 | CT Hotline: 211

Perischilli said the victim's medical history was taken and his specimens were sent to the state lab the following day, adding all isolation precautions were taken. Brennan was admited to the hospital on March 6.

"His condition started to deteriorate last evening," Perischilli said. "He suffered cardiac arrest, was successfully revived, but suffered another arrest this morning and expired."

The health commissioner also announced four more presumptive-positive cases -- two from Bergen County, including the man who died on Tuesday morning, and two from Burlington County -- raising the number of such cases in New Jersey to 15. Perischilli said another 31 people are under investigation remaining to be tested.

"The fact that we are continuing to see additional cases is concerning, but it's certainly not unexpected. It follows the trend we're seeing around the country," Perischilli said.


Gov. Murphy issued a state of emergency and a public health emergency due to the outbreak on Monday to help ramp up the containment of the spread of the virus.

Little Ferry pizzeria owner John Porrino says the news raises his awareness.

"It's starting to get a little scary," he said. "We're doing our part. We're washing our hands. We're doing everything we could."

"We're a strong town. We are tough people," said Raguseo. "We've been through a lot and we're going to get through this."

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco shared the following warning for some residents: "Bergen County residents who are seniors, particularly those with underlying health conditions, are strongly encouraged to avoid large crowds and large gatherings while COVID-19 remains a threat."

Perischilli explained what it means to "come into contact" with someone who may be carrying the virus.

"When we talk about having contact with a COVID-19 positive and you talk about social distancing, we usually use as a general definition six feet. If you're outside of a six feet perimeter you should be okay. If you're closer to that you should be concerned," Perischilli said, adding citizens should use common sense when around people who appear sick.

"If you're near someone who seems sick, I would move," she said.

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Perischilli said there are currently no recommendations coming from state government to cancel upcoming St. Patrick's Day parades, but said there is some concern about the gatherings that tend to happen before and after large events.

"We feel very strongly that people that are frail, not feeling well, immuno-suppressed, vulnerable in any way, should not go," she said.

As for taking mass transit, Perischilli said the six feet guideline is hard to comply with on a crowded train, but added so far there hasn't been a prevalence of community spread in New Jersey.

But if that happens, "There is no doubt that we will be exercising more vigilance in our recommendations for closures, travel, mass transit, but in New Jersey we are not there yet," she said.

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