As the world was still trying to understand the novel coronavirus and how to navigate life during a pandemic, the Fusco family in New Jersey was grappling with losing four loved ones to COVID-19, in just a matter of days.
The matriarch, 73-year-old Grace Fusco, often had her 11 children, their spouses, and children over for dinner at her home in Freehold Township. In an interview with CBS News on Thursday, four of Fusco's children — Joe, Toni, Adrienne, and Liz — said they weren't thinking about the coronavirus during what ended up being their last dinner together on March 3. "Unbeknownst to us, we were spreading this horrible disease to people — to us, in our family," Joe said.
About a week after the dinner, Grace and six of her children were hospitalized, and soon Grace and her sons Carmine and Vinny were on ventilators. Grace's eldest child, 56-year-old Rita, died first, on March 13; the day after she died, her COVID-19 test came back positive. On March 18, Grace and Carmine, 55, passed away. The next day, Vinny, 53, also died.
"Her passing, in a way, helped the world immensely," Liz told CBS News. "They learned a lot from her and her children." On the day Vinny died, New Jersey had 742 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nine deaths. New Jersey health officials conducted contact tracing, and learned that the man who was New Jersey's first official coronavirus death visited Grace's house on March 3, and was believed to be the source of the virus.
Toni and Joe were both in the hospital with COVID-19 when their mother and siblings died, and Toni told CBS News she was "petrified," believing the virus was "just gonna take our whole family." Joe, struggling to breathe, was put on a ventilator, and said he told himself before being sedated, "You've got to wake up, you have to wake up." He did, 30 days later, and told CBS News he is "lucky to be alive."
As of Thursday, New Jersey has reported 732,560 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 21,340 deaths. Knowing that their mother and siblings are part of those statistics is hard for the surviving Fuscos, with Toni saying she wishes she could walk into Grace's kitchen and see her making everyone lunch: "I would give my last breath for it, just to hug her one more time."
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