Social distancing ramps up as NJ announces first coronavirus death

State health officials announced that New Jersey’s first coronavirus death was an elderly Little Ferry man who also had several underlying health problems. He died at Hackensack University Medical Center.

“The 69-year-old male with a history of diabetes, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, GI bleeding and emphysema — no history of travel outside the US. There is a history of travel back and forth to New York,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “He suffered a cardiac arrest — was successfully revived — but suffered another arrest this morning, and expired.”

He was one of four new presumed positive coronavirus cases announced Tuesday. Two of the cases are in Burlington County and one in Bergen, the county with half of New Jersey’s 15 cases as of 1 p.m. The county executive’s already limiting visits to nursing homes here.

Many Bergen cases trace back to New Rochelle — and on Tuesday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to quash the exploding coronavirus cluster there by calling in the National Guard, and establishing a one-mile containment zone that bans large gatherings. The draconian measure raised eyebrows in Jersey.

“We had just heard the National Guard was going into New Rochelle. I’m not sure what they’ll do there,” said Persichilli.

New Jersey’s Coronavirus Task Force also met on Tuesday, but is still hashing out when they might possibly invoke measures like Cuomo’s. It might suspend contact visits with prisoners.

Gov. Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency Monday night. It lets state bypass regulations for faster access to needed resources; waive rules “detrimental to the public welfare” including restriction on people’s movement or access to affected areas; activates New Jersey’s Price Gouging Law that barring price increases over 10%; and makes the state eligible for federal financial assistance.

“This emergency declaration responsibly removes bureaucratic barriers, to make sure we have the resources and supplies out frontline public health and safety professionals need to do their jobs,” Murphy said.

The declaration also offers residents a break on coronavirus testing costs.

“The administration has taken action to waive any consumer cost shares for screening, testing and testing related services — including emergency room, urgent care and office visits for as many residents as possible. We are also urging all private insurers to do the same for their policy holders,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

Meanwhile, there were many vacant parking spots and empty seats on usually jam-packed NJ Transit trains Tuesday morning, showing that riders could be avoiding close contact with fellow commuters. This, even as the agency adds extra trains for New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — which hasn’t been cancelled.

“People have to evaluate their options for transportation, so some of that will have to be a personal decision, as far as if they have a private conveyance or their only option is mass transit,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan.

An NJ Transit spokesman says the agency is hearing that ridership is down and is monitoring ticket sales. Cleaning with anti-bacterial agents now occurs every 24 hours.

For now, how New Jersey residents prepare to deal with the coronavirus will depend largely on their own comfort level. The state is not ordering the suspension of any large gatherings, yet.