NEW YORK • Grace Fusco - mother of 11, grandmother of 27 - would sit in the same pew at church each Sunday, surrounded by nearly a dozen members of her sprawling Italian-American family. Sunday dinners drew an even larger crowd to her home in central New Jersey.
Now, her close-knit clan is united anew by unspeakable grief: Ms Fusco, 73, died last Wednesday after contracting the coronavirus - hours after her son died from the virus and five days after her daughter's death, a relative said.
On Thursday, another child who had contracted the virus, Vincent Fusco, died, the relative, Roseann Paradiso Fodera, said.
Three other children remain hospitalised, two of them in critical condition, said Ms Paradiso Fodera, who is Ms Fusco's cousin. She is also the family's lawyer and is serving as a spokesman.
Ms Fusco's eldest child Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55, of Freehold, New Jersey, died on March 13; after her death, the family learnt she had contracted the virus. Ms Fusco's eldest son, Carmine Fusco, of Bath, Pennsylvania, died on Wednesday, Ms Paradiso Fodera said.
Ms Fusco, of Freehold, died after falling "gravely ill" and breathing with help from a ventilator, unaware that her two oldest children had died, Ms Paradiso Fodera said.
Nearly 20 other relatives are quarantined at their homes, awaiting test results and praying in isolation, unable to join together to mourn their deep collective loss. Friends are doing what they can from afar.
"If they're not on a respirator, they're quarantined," Ms Paradiso Fodera said. "It is so pitiful. They can't even mourn the way you would."
At least 17,000 people across every state in the US have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 214 have died, according to a New York Times database.
But the virus' devastating toll on a single family is considered as rare as it is perplexing.
The state's health commissioner Judith Persichilli has said Ms Fusco-Jackson had no underlying health problems.
Ms Paradiso Fodera said the woman's younger siblings were also in good health before contracting the virus. "They're young, and they don't have any underlying conditions," she said.
UNABLE TO MOURN TOGETHER
If they're not on a respirator, they're quarantined... It is so pitiful. They can't even mourn the way you would.
MS ROSEANN PARADISO FODERA, the family's lawyer and Ms Grace Fusco's cousin, on the tragic situation.
It was unclear whether Ms Fusco, a heavyset woman, had underlying health problems.
She and four of her children were being treated at CentraState Medical Centre in Freehold, about an hour south of Manhattan, relatives said. Mr Carmine Fusco died at a Pennsylvania hospital near his home, Ms Paradiso Fodera said.
A person who had contact with a man who died in New Jersey on March 10, becoming the state's first coronavirus-related fatality, had attended a recent Fusco family gathering, Ms Persichilli said.
The gathering on March 3 is believed to be the source of the virus, and information about the number of people infected there led to a new intensity in Ms Persichilli's warnings over the weekend against even small get-togethers with friends or relatives.
"I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to take personal responsibility and to avoid even small gatherings," Ms Persichilli said during a briefing for reporters.
Dr James Matera, chief medical officer of CentraState Medical Centre, said he had discussed the unusual situation of treating so many members of the same family with the state's health commissioner and officials at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He said officials are evaluating the patients' medical histories to look for clues about why the disease might have progressed so rapidly and been so potent.
"I don't know if it's a strain thing," Dr Matera said. "I would consider these particular people to be unusual."
Ms Fusco-Jackson, a mother of three, died a day before her test for the coronavirus came back positive on the evening of March 14.
Her relatives are urging officials at CentraState or the CDC to conduct an autopsy to learn more about how the virus killed Ms Fusco-Jackson. She had been in good health, they said, and taught religious education classes at the Roman Catholic church where many members of the large extended family worshipped.
The church has since been deep-cleaned, and pastor Sam Sirianni as well as other members of the parish staff are operating under quarantine based on possible exposure.
In addition to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus at CentraState, a mid-size hospital that operates as a non-profit, 27 community members are awaiting results of their tests.