An unimaginable tragedy in New Jersey may have started around the dinner table of a big Italian-American family on March 3, where health officials say the novel coronavirus was an unexpected guest.
Two weeks later, the Fusco clan is reeling after the COVID-19 disease killed the family matriarch and three siblings, hospitalized another three and potentially infected more than a dozen others who were at that dinner.
“It’s absolutely surreal,” said Elizabeth Fusco, 42, who has lost her mother, two brothers and eldest sister within a six-day span. All of her siblings were in their 50s and her mom was 73.
“It’s like the second we start to grieve one, the phone rings and there’s another person gone, taken from us forever,” she told CNN.
Fusco and her remaining family are now hoping and praying that they can grieve in peace, and that matters won’t get any worse.
Three of her relatives remain in hospital, while 19 of them are in self-isolation amid concerns that they, too, might be infected with the potentially deadly disease.
“If they’re not on a respirator, they’re quarantined,” Roseann Paradiso Fodera, a relative and lawyer for the family, told the New York Times.
“It is so pitiful,” she said. “They can’t even mourn the way you would.”
The Fusco family’s losses started last Friday when the eldest of 11 siblings, Rita Fusco-Jackson, died of the virus at the age of 55. Rita’s mom, Grace Fusco, never found out about it because she was already in hospital on a ventilator.
Carmine Fusco, the eldest son in the family, died in hospital on Wednesday, March 18, the family says.
The hospital called Elizabeth Fusco to tell her about Carmine’s death. Then, at that very moment, Grace started to slip away in another room at the hospital.
“I listened to those doctors and those machines code my mother on the phone when she passed,” Elizabeth Fusco told CNN. “I’ll never get over that.”
Grace Fusco, mother of 11 and grandmother of 27, died before she could learn that she’d outlived her two eldest, Paradiso Fodera said.
Vincent Fusco, another of Grace’s sons, died on Thursday of the same disease.
“They didn’t deserve this, they’re too young,” Andriana Fusco, another of the siblings, told the Morning Call newspaper. “They were good people.”
The family has been “decimated” by the disease, Paradiso Fodera told CNN.
The Fusco family has deep ties to New Jersey’s horse-racing industry, according to the state’s health commissioner, Judith M. Persichilli. The first New Jersey resident to die of the virus worked at a race track, and it’s believed that one of his contacts infected the Fuscos, Persichilli said. The family dinner on March 3 is believed to be the source of the outbreak.
“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take personal responsibility and to avoid even small gatherings,” Persichilli told reporters on Sunday.
Another person who attended the dinner later tested positive for the virus and died, the New York Times reports.
“A party to most people was a regular dinner to them,” Paradiso Fodera told the Times.
Paradiso Fodera says the family is still waiting on test results for other children and spouses connected to the hospitalized victims.
The Fuscos accounted for four of New Jersey’s nine recorded deaths as of Thursday evening.
“To everybody, this is a virus. To us, it’s a person,” said Andriana Fusco.
“It’s our family.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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