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Coronavirus is devastating this family. It killed 4 of them. Nearly 20 are in isolation.

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, N.J. – A gathering of an old-school Italian-Catholic family from Freehold Township became the epicenter for a New Jersey cluster of the novel coronavirus that has now killed four family members and left several others hospitalized.

Rita Fusco-Jackson, 56, was the first in the family to succumb to the virus March 13  after being treated at a local hospital. Her brother Carmine Fusco, 55, died in a Pennsylvania hospital on Wednesday, just hours before the death of the family's matriarch, 73-year-old Grace Fusco, said Monsignor Sam Sirianni, the pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine, the family's church.

A fourth member of the family succumbed Thursday, 53-year-old Vincent Fusco of Manalapan, Sirianni said. He also had been hospitalized. Vincent Fusco was the fourth-oldest of the family's 11 children.



Three of Grace Fusco's other children remain hospitalized with the coronavirus, two of them in critical condition, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing a family spokesperson. Nearly 20 relatives are in quarantine.

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Sirianni said his Freehold parishioners are feeling a complicated grief — shock and sorrow over the sudden deaths in the Fusco family mixed with fear that the coronavirus has arrived with such devastating consequences so close to home.

“I think it’s complex," he said. "It’s sadness because a lot of people knew her. There’s also fear because it kind of brings into the heart of our parish the reality that someone we know, care about, worked with, prayed with, caught the virus and died because of it.”

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One of the Grace Fusco’s sons was friends with John Brennan, a 69-year-old horse trainer from Bergen County who became the first person in the state to die of COVID-19 last week. State health officials have said Brennan was friends with someone who attended a Fusco family gathering.

Officials have said that several family members who were at the gathering became ill with the virus.

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The family was heavily involved in horse racing at the nearby Freehold Raceway. The raceway, which has now temporarily closed, reported last week that someone who had been in contact with a positive COVID-19 case attended the track March 7.

The family often drew together at Grace Fusco's Freehold Township home for "dinner at grandma's," Sirianni said. The family relative told the New York Times that the gathering that spread the virus was a typical Tuesday dinner.

Fusco-Jackson was a religious education teacher at St. Robert Bellarmine, teaching in the confirmation program. She attended a Feb. 29 church retreat, serving as a teacher volunteer and hall monitor. Her contact with retreat participants was minimal, the church said in a Facebook post.

Grace Fusco, her late husband and the couple's 11 children were all original members of St. Robert Bellarmine when it opened in 1973. Even after the children were grown and started families of their own, when they attended Mass they flocked around their mother at the same pew, about four or five rows up on a side aisle.

"You have to say that they were an Italian-Catholic family. They lived that," Sirianni said. "They carried themselves with a dignity that was rooted in hard work."


Governor Phil Murphy

@GovMurphy
Our hearts go out to the Fusco family.

As we mourn with them, I urge all New Jerseyans to take this seriously. Please wash your hands, practice social distancing, and stay home. We will get through this together.
 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/nyregion/new-jersey-family-coronavirus.html …

Grace Fusco, center, and her 11 children in a family photo.
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Grace Fusco worked at a rehabilitation and nursing home before she retired. In her younger years, she brought Holy Communion to the sick and worked occasionally as a minister of Holy Communion. She was reserved, Sirianni said, but it was clear that she took great pride in her family.

"She was a true matriarch," he said.

In addition to teaching, Fusco-Jackson sang in the choir and formerly worked as a wedding coordinator, helping brides to "stay calm and breathe" before they walked down the aisle, Sirriani said.

He was told of her death March 13 by a family member, who also reported that Grace and two of her sons were in the hospital and were being tested for COVID-19.

“That was like a shock," he said. "You read it in the paper, see it on the news and then find that it’s right in your parish.”

Asked about media reports on the Fusco family, state health officials said Thursday that they couldn’t discuss specifics about any particular “family cluster,” USA Latest News but state epidemiologist Christina Tan said “intense interactions” and “prolonged contact” can increase the likelihood of the virus spreading through families. The severity of the disease depends on factors like age and underlying health conditions, she said.

Officials stressed that people with the virus who are isolating at home should not interact with other family members and should have their own room when possible.

David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said models from China have estimated that up to three-quarters of COVID-19 cases are related to the virus spreading in families or among others who share close contact with people who are sick. That's because the virus is believed to spread through droplets from sick people, not through the air, Cennimo said.

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"Your risk of being in contact with a respiratory droplet of someone (either directly or touching a contaminated surface) increases significantly as you share more close proximal space," he said in an email. "I believe this is why we are seeing 'the virus rip through' some groups."

The family cluster likely led an aerospace manufacturing company in Wall to close down as a precaution. Usa Press Release Distribution Service An employee of Safran Aerosystems Evacuation told the company that her mother died of the coronavirus March 13 — the same day Gov. Phil Murphy announced Fusco-Jackson was New Jersey's second death.

The Fuscos were among the first in New Jersey to bare the brunt of the growing coronavirus pandemic. The virus has killed nine people and sickened 742 statewide as of Thursday, officials said.

Monmouth County has so far seen 43 COVID-19 cases. The county's three deaths thus far are the Fuscos.

Because the family had so many children, a whole generation of people who grew up Freehold were "in class with a Fusco," Sirianni said. For those that knew them, the daily disruption brought on by the virus has been compounded by personal grief and deep anxiety.

He said the church has been directing members with questions about exposure to local health officials, who have been investigating the cases. The Freehold Health Department did not return calls seeking comment.

The church has been cleaned and the parish is posting prayer videos on its Facebook page.

Mass on Sunday will be live-streamed on Facebook Live. With relatives quarantined and restrictions on public gatherings extending to funeral services, Sirianni said he doesn't know how the family will lay to rest the four who died.

"It's hard for a lot of our people," Sirianni said. "I'm trying hard to call them away from fear and to hold onto hope."

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