Officials announce first two presumed cases of coronavirus in New Jersey

As experts and state officials predicted would happen, New Jersey has joined the growing ranks of states with cases of COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus that has spread across the globe, causing 100,000 infections and more than 3,000 deaths.

Tests on two cases, both involving people now hospitalized in Bergen County, have returned what officials called presumptive positive results in state labs, which have now been forwarded to the federal Centers for Disease Control for confirmation, state officials said Thursday.

Gathered for a press conference at the state’s emergency management center outside of Trenton, officials said the first confirmed case is a 32-year-old man with a residence in Fort Lee and connections to New York City. Officials said he was in stable condition in isolation at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack.

Officials said they had just learned about the second case before the news conference and had limited information about the person involved, but said they were being treated at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood. In both cases, the officials said, they were conducting investigations to determine the possible point of contracting the flu-like illness and contacts the patients had had with others.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said authorities had filled in some of the blanks with the first confirmed case.

“He is a male health care worker in his 30s who resides in New York with his family and returned by himself to Fort Lee this Monday evening where he maintains an apartment,” he said, adding that he lives on the first floor of a building in the borough.

“This building does not have an elevator,” Sokolich said, adding that that was “important from medical investigation perspective.”

“We know his movement was primarily in New York,” said Judith Persichilli, New Jersey’s Health commissioner. “He wasn’t feeling well, came home to his dwelling.”

Hackensack University Medical Center officials say he’s resting comfortably.

“We are working closely with the New Jersey Department of Health in accordance with protocols provided by CDC in using isolation and protective equipment,” said Ihor Sawczuk, president of Hackensack Meridian Health North

“We understand the public is concerned, especially now that two cases have been identified among our residents,” Persichilli said. “But we continue to take all steps available to us to protect our residents.”

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said officials from multiple jurisdictions are working together to battle the spread of the disease, and to track the circle of contacts.

“The New Jersey state Health Department is in contact with New York, there is a dialogue back and forth,” he said. “We have given them information that we have on the individual and they have started the investigation on their side.”

Officials said the man in the first case has no discernible connection to the Westchester County attorney at the center of most of New York’s 22 coronavirus cases. But they warned that any New Jersey resident who attended religious services events at Temple Young Israel in New Rochelle on Feb. 22 and 23 should self-quarantine until March 8, to accommodate the presumed incubation period of the disease.

Officials at the state press conference said they would continue to give the public needed information as it became available.

“While we have two presumptive cases in New Jersey, the risk still remains low for the general population,” said state epidemiologist Christina Tan. “But it’s slightly higher for New Jerseyans where community transmission of COVID-19 might be occurring and for those who’ve had contact with confirmed cases.”

So far in New Jersey, 13 people have been tested in accordance with CDC guidelines — with two positives. Eight persons remain under investigation, officials said.

Meanwhile, with the state running low on items like surgical masks and hand sanitizer, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal cautioned businesses against price gouging, and said his office has issued 10 warnings.

“It’s simply unconscionable that businesses in our state — including pharmacies — are seeking to profit off the fear of the public,” he said.

State officials have asked the federal government to help with the shortage of medical supplies.