Older people and those with underlying medical conditions are most at risk of suffering severe complications and death from the novel coronavirus. But people of all ages remain at risk.

Gov. Phil Murphy underscored that point this week when he highlighted the deaths of men he described as being in "the prime of their lives."

They included  Israel Tolentino, 33, of Passaic, who was New Jersey's first firefighter to die from COVID-19  He had been a volunteer firefighter who went full-time a year ago and also served as an EMT. He leaves behind his wife and children ages 7 and 9.

"By all accounts, an incredible guy and somebody who we mourn with his family and friends. We keep his family in our prayers as we do every single New Jersey family who is dealing with the absolute worse part from this emergency," Murphy said Tuesday.

Ben Luderer, 30, was a teacher in Cliffside Park School No. 6 and the high school varsity baseball coach. He was also a member of the undefeated 2008 Don Bosco baseball team.

"Just stop for a second. You heard about a 33-year-old and a 30-year-old," Murphy said Tuesday.

"No matter how good our health is, no matter how young we might be you might unwittingly carry this virus and pass it on to someone else you hold dear."

New Jersey's death toll rose from 198 to 267 overnight. An additional 2,196 positive cases brought the state total to 18,696.

Among the deaths, the ages of the patients have broken down as follows:

1% — Under age 30
12% — Ages 30 to 49
17% — Ages 50 to 64
30% — Ages 65 to 79
47% — Over age 80

About 42% of the deaths had underlying medical conditions such as obesity, high-blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Health officials are still investigating the medical history of the remaining deaths.

COVID-19 also took the life of a former New Jersey resident who was a member of the New Jersey Army National Guard and is believed to be the first person in the military to die from COVID-19.

The Defense Department said Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, 57, died on Saturday after being hospitalized on March 21.

His daughter, Shandrea Hickok, 26, told New Jersey 101.5 that her father went to a COVID-19-related training event at the Guard facility in Sea Girt on March 16 and had an MRI the next day to make sure his lung cancer was still in remission.

Two days later, he developed a fever and thought he was having a reaction to the dye used for an MRI, according to Shandrea Hickok. The fever subsided and he was cleared to return home to Pennsylvania. He had trouble breathing during the night and checked into Lehigh Valley Hospital-Poconos, where he passed away.

Israel Tolentino
Israel Tolentino (FMBA)

Shandrea Hickok said her father was born at Norman Air Force Base in Norman, Oklahoma, and lived in several states. He moved to Jackson in 1997 and enlisted in the National Guard in 2009. He continued to serve in the Guard after he accepted a position as a civilian physician assistant at Andrews Air force Base.

He was working as an orthopedic physician’s assistant at a clinic in Connecticut at the time of his death.

"He was a Republican and an NRA member and strong supporter of gun rights. He moved to Pennsylvania to have that right and to go out on the shooting range. He lived near the Appalachian Trail. I would visit him and we would hike together," Shandrea Hickok said. He was commuting to a job at a clinic in Connecticut.

Shandrea Hickok said her father saved the lives of two fellow Guardsmen in July when a tire blew out on their truck as they traveled on Route 78 to a training facility in Pennsylvania.

"He got out of his car and ran into a ditch and got them out of the truck, which was wrapped around a tree. They survived and he stayed with them at the hospital until their families arrived. I went to a barbecue with the military and was able to meet those soldiers and they were so appreciative of my father saving their lives," she said.

He was a third-generation service member and his son Noah, who expects to receive a criminal justice degree from Rutgers University in May, will carry on the family tradition by applying to become a commissioned officer in the Navy, according to Shandrea Hickok.

"My brother has always wanted to go into the military and follow my father's footsteps," Shandrea Hickok said. "He has been working for the CDC the past couple of weeks as a security officer fighting the on the front lines in New York City, helping with the testing. He's trying to continue to fight this virus and help save lives like my father did."

Ben Luderer
Ben Luderer (Cliffside Park School #6 PTA)

New Jersey Fireman's Mutual Benevolent Association president Eddie Donnelly lamented that because of the social distancing practices in place, his union could provide a true firefighter's funeral for Tolentino.

"We can’t have hundreds of firefighters at his house playing with his children and consoling his wife and family," Donnelly wrote on the union website. "We can’t have food sent to a grieving family and friends because no one can gather. We couldn’t spend time with him in the hospital when he took his final breaths because no visitors are allowed."

"This is the true impact of the devastating coronavirus, and a reminder of the added danger firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers, as well as other first responders and health care providers, face every shift we report for," Donnelly said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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