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Coronavirus In New Jersey: State Announces First COVID-19 Death

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) -- New Jersey officials reported the first coronavirus death in the state. A 69-year-old man from Bergen County died from COVID-19 on Tuesday morning at Hackensack University Medical Center. There are now 15 presumptive positive coronavirus cases in New Jersey, including the four new cases announced today.

"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," Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said in a joint statement.

The man who was hospitalized on March 6 had underlying health issues, including diabetes, and his condition started to deteriorate on Monday evening.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli says the man had no travel history outside of the United States, but did travel back and forth to New York, where there are more than 150 cases. It's not known where exactly he traveled in New York.

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While the first death is an alarming milestone for the Garden State, health officials say they are focused on preventing the community spread of the coronavirus, meaning person-to-person transmission without a link to other known cases.

"When we start seeing community spread, there is no doubt that we will be exercising more vigilance in our recommendations for closures, travel and mass transit," Persichilli said. "But in New Jersey we're not there yet."

The virus is finally showing up in greater numbers in South Jersey. Among the new cases is a Burlington County couple in their 60s who are under home quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. The husband and wife just returned home from a trip to Italy and developed symptoms.

Officials say on March 4, the couple alerted a local emergency room that they were sick and had traveled to Italy. They then received care away from other patients and were sent home with mild symptoms.

"They are at home on isolation. They are actively being monitored by our staff here at the health department. They will be questioned about their symptoms in the coming days," Burlington County Health Department Director Dr. Herb Conaway said. "They are a 62-year-old male and a 60-year-old female who had recently returned from travel in Italy where they came in contact with someone who was subsequently found to be positive for COVID-19. They then, after experiencing symptoms, sought care at an area hospital. Cultures were taken and they came back positive earlier today."

There are now 15 presumptive positive cases in New Jersey. A state of emergency was declared Monday.

CBS3's Cleve Bryan contributed to this report.

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