TRENTON — More than 800 people in New Jersey have been asked to quarantine themselves because of possible exposure to the new coronavirus, which as of Saturday morning had sickened four known people in the state.

The fourth known case — a 55-year-old Englewood man who was admitted to Englewood Hospital on March 4, where he remains in stable condition — was announced Friday night.

The patient had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, according to the American Conservative Union. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also attended the Maryland conference, but they did not interact with the NJ patient, according to the same statement on Twitter.

The man was the third positive case from Bergen County, where a Fort Lee man became the first known case. The state's other case so far was in Camden County, where a 61-year-old Cherry Hill man tested positive Friday. (See more details about the cases in story below.)

After a person tests positive, state health officials track down relatives, co-workers and places where the person may have visited, urging people who have had close contact to self-quarantine by staying home and avoiding coming within 6 feet of other people for a period of up to 14 days.

Some of the state's cases has been linked to New York, where dozens of people have been sickened. New Jersey officials said Saturday that an infected rabbi from New York also attended services Feb. 23 at temple Agudas Yisroel Bircas Yaakov in the city of Passaic, resulting in health officials reaching out to people who may have been present.

Self-quarantine

As of early Saturday afternoon, 151 people in the state were in self quarantine. Of those, four who are considered medium-risk were in "active surveillance," meaning that they had to routinely check in with a local health officer. Another 139 medium-risk people were on passive surveillance, meaning that they were monitoring themselves and checking their temperature every eight hours with orders to contact a health official if they develop symptoms. Eight low-risk people were also self-monitoring, state officials said Saturday.

Since the scare began, 654 people have completed self-quarantine without coming down with the disease, which has symptoms similar to the flu: coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath and fever. Symptoms can be severe to mild, with older people and those with underlying medical issues such as weak immune systems, heart disease and diabetes at the most risk.

Few worshippers were allowed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, because of fears of spreading the virus. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Test results

The state so far has completed 29 tests, all but four of which have tested negative.

  • The state is currently awaiting results of four more tests:
  • 1 from Union County
  • 1 from Mercer County
  • 2 from Bergen County.

Those four patients were admitted to Palisades Medical Center, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, RWJ University Hospital in Rahway and Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell.

The state also is in the process of testing samples of 15 more people:

  • 3 from Essex County
  • 7 from Bergen County
  • 2 from Morris County
  • 2 from Passaic County
  • 1 from Camden County

State officials said Saturday that Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp had not yet sought approval from the state to conduct testing here.

New Jersey's state lab has federal approval to do its own testing, the results of which still have to be corroborated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is why the state refers to its positive cases as "presumptive."

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey said Friday it would waive prior authorization requirements for visits to primary care physicians, urgent care centers or emergency rooms for evaluation of upper respiratory symptoms, fever, shortness of breath or other conditions that may represent COVID-19.

Disruptions and fear

On Saturday, the U.S. death toll stood at 19, with most of the victims in Washington state. Across the country, about 400 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus of 2019, or COVID-19.

The worry about the pandemic has caused financial markets to take a hit and stores to sell out of face masks and hand sanitizers. The virus has hit hardest in China, where it originated, as well as South Korea and Italy.

State officials on Saturday continued to urge calm, reiterating that most residents are at low risk of contracting the virus.

Nevertheless, state and local authorities have been preparing for a potential outbreak since January. This week, state education officials urged school officials to arrange for home instruction should the need arise to close schools.

So far, just one school — the private Frisch School in Paramus — has closed, after 28 children were exposed to an infected person at a bat mitzvah at the Young Israel temple in New Rochelle, New York, the source of many of New York's coronavirus cases.

New Jersey's known cases

CASE 1: The first case was a 32-year-old man from Fort Lee who first experienced symptoms on March 1. He went to an emergency room on March 2 and was admitted to Hackensack Medical Center on March 3. He had one household contact who is in self quarantine. Officials said that he attended a medical conference in New York City, where he worked, and may have taken mass transit. New Jersey officials did not say when and where exactly the conference took place.

CASE 2: The state's second confirmed case was an Englewood woman in her 30s who came down with symptoms either on Feb. 29 or March 1. She was never hospitalized because of her mild symptoms but remains in home quarantine and in stable condition.

State officials reported that she had close contact with work colleagues in New York City and a New York relative. One close household contact is in self quarantine. The woman also had a gathering at her home on Feb. 29 with 15 people, who are being notified by their local health departments to self quarantine and self monitor.

CASE 3: A 61-year-old man in Cherry Hill came down with symptoms on Feb. 26. He was admitted to Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital on March 3, where he remains in stable condition. His exposure is unknown, state health officials said Saturday. Healthcare and EMS workers who came in contact with him are being identified and notified. The man had seven close household contacts and five friends and co-workers who came in close contact with him, all in New Jersey.

CASE 4: A 55-year-old Englewood man was admitted to Englewood Hospital on March 4 after reporting symptoms on Feb. 27. The man was connected to the Young Israel temple in New Rochelle, New York, where he attended services on Feb. 23. He has three relatives who were in close contact and he attended an out-of-state conference, which New Jersey officials did not immediately identify on Saturday.

The American Conservative Union, which hosted the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Feb. 26 through Feb. 29 in Maryland, shared a statement Saturday on Twitter that an attendee, who had been exposed to the virus “previous to the conference” was at a hospital in New Jersey and under quarantine.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence did attend CPAC, but the same statement said the NJ man did not interact with either Trump or Pence and did not attend any events in the main hall.

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.