HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Following the death of a 69-year-old Little Ferry man who succumbed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday -- New Jersey’s first confirmed death from the potentially deadly virus that has claimed 30 lives around the United States since its December outbreak in Wuhan, China -- Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco has declared a State of Emergency for the County.

The news comes just one day before the coronavirus was declared today a pandemic by the World Health Organization with more than 120,000 cases reported around the globe and claimed over 4,300 lives.

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Right here in New Jersey, there are a reported 23 presumptive positive cases to date that include both travel-related and community contact transmission, and more than 150 cases nationwide. On March 5, a 32-year-old Fort Lee man who frequents New York City -- where he is employed as a health care worker, and where the virus is more rapidly spreading -- was the first in the state to test positive for the virus at Hackensack University Medical Center where he has since been hospitalized and is recovering. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that a woman, also in her 30s, was being treated for the virus at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. On Tuesday, a 44-year-old Teaneck man tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized at Holy Name Medical Center. 

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The coronavirus, which are a family of viruses that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, pose a low risk for otherwise healthy individuals. Exposure to the virus only poses life-threatening consequences in older individuals or those with a weakened immune system, or other underlying health conditions such as lung disease, according to health officials. The Little Ferry man who succumbed to the virus, identified as John Brennan, was a horse trainer who reportedly had emphysema, diabetes and hypertension. 

Following his death, Congressman Josh Gottheimer said the area’s hospitals, health facilities, frontline medical professionals, and state and federal government are working to ensure the current outbreak is contained and that New Jersey residents are kept safe. 

Effective 5 p.m. today, the county closed county-operated senior activity centers to better protect senior citizens from contracting the virus until further notice. 

On Tuesday, Tedesco issued an executive order mandating that all county agencies take appropriate action to assist municipal governments in containing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from COVID-19 outbreak. Tedesco is also authorizing county departments to prioritize the most vulnerable county residents served, and develop the appropriate contingency plans to avoid any disruption of services, specifically, senior centers and Meals-on-Wheels recipients, according to the order. 

The order also authorizes all county employees to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations regarding hand washing, sanitizing, and basic infection control procedures. All county businesses are also being asked to avoid business-related international or domestic travel to any states that have reported COVID-19 cases. Aside from China, travel to the following countries where the virus is widespread is also avoided: South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Visitation to the Bergen County Health Care Center in Rockleigh has also been suspended; the facility is directed to provide technological alternative interactions to residents instead. Similar measures are “strongly recommended” at the other senior-focused facilities around the county. Senior citizens with underlying health conditions are also being advised to avoid large crowds while the virus remains a threat.

In addition to the executive order, the senate passed a bill proposed by Congressman Gottheimer to provide emergency funding for a “robust response” to the coronavirus crisis, including vaccine and treatment development and loans for small businesses affected by the virus. The legislation was signed into law by the President last Friday.

Dr. David Perlin, the founding Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President for the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, said during a press conference on March 1 that the hospital has developed a molecular, in-house test in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, that they plan to apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization. 

“We’re hoping to have it ready to go for our network within the week,” said Perlin. “Currently, the health department labs in New Jersey are authorized to test, and so this is certainly a plus. That way, we can send samples to the health department and the CDC for final validation.” 

Prior to the press conference that day, Gottheimer convened with health officials from around the county at the Hackensack University Medical Center campus to discuss preparedness for the virus. At the time of the March 1 meeting, a mere five Americans had died from the virus -- a death toll that has since climbed to 30 in the country.  

“It’s going to be possibly a larger number of people infected,” said Jerry Zuckerman, M.D. and vice president of Infection Prevention and Control at Hackensack Meridian Health. “In the past, the infections that we’ve had have been much more limited. Today, we’re all susceptible to the coronavirus even though it acts and seems like influenza. And we get that every year.”

COVID-19 are part of a family of viruses which cause colds and other upper respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

Perlin said 80% of coronavirus cases are "relatively mild" and that recovery time can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks until the individuals are able to “resume their normal lives.” Only about 5% of cases, he said, have resulted in "very serious, acute" diseases and potentially life-threatening due to underlying health problems that the individual had before their exposure to the virus.

Physicians say the best protection against the virus is hand washing for 20 seconds and avoiding touching the nose, mouth and eyes while out in public. They also advise staying within 6 feet of individuals who are exhibiting signs of sickness like sneezing or coughing. The coronavirus, like other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu, can pass from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes on or near another, specifically, landing in the mouths or noses of the healthy person, which can be inhaled into the lungs. People who are mildly sick should stay home, and those with a more severe illness warrants a trip to the Emergency Department.    

To combat the rising tide of COVID-19 infection, the county, under the new executive order, will also procure the necessary supplies to ensure adequate sanitization, cleaning or sterilization of any facility or location.  

Several schools around Bergen County and beyond have also taken the necessary precautions against the virus and to restrain the spread of it. Most recently, the Frisch School in Paramus has been closed this past week to sanitize the building as a precaution after 28 schoolchildren who visited Westchester County last month believed they may have been exposed to the virus. 

Bergen Community College will also cancel classes for the week of March 16 and will resume them on Monday, March 23.  

In Teaneck, Fairleigh Dickinson University will switch to remote learning for all classes, effective Monday, March 16.

For concerns about coronavirus, call the New Jersey Department of Health Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.