Pearly Allen’s brush with dying began with a fist bump.

The harness racing driver swears he contracted the coronavirus when he was congratulated by a person who “regarded deathly sick” March 5 at Yonkers Raceway. The fist bump got here moments after Allen steered his 13-year-old horse to a stunning triumph.

“That win,” he mentioned, “got here at a hell of a price.”

Two weeks later, Allen was remoted in a sealed-off hospital room for COVID-19 sufferers. He heard “the most important scream” of his life late one night time and watched as medical employees shoved a ventilator tube down the throat of a person they have been wheeling down the hallway.

“The subsequent morning, the police wheeled that individual out in a makeshift coffin,” Allen mentioned. “I sat there that night time within the mattress and checked out my fingers, and the pores and skin was so shiny that it regarded like each funeral I had ever been to.

“As I laid there alone, I believed to myself: ‘Would I be the following to be wheeled down the hallway?’”

It’s a chilling chain response proper out of a film like “Contagion” or “Outbreak.” Lots of New Jersey’s early coronavirus circumstances, together with Allen’s, could be traced to Yonkers Raceway, harness racing and a handful of days in early March, interviews with 5 individuals linked to the game revealed to NJ Advance Media.

The Westchester County monitor possible was floor zero for a cluster of infections that resulted in 4 of the earliest recorded deaths in New Jersey, individuals with sturdy hyperlinks to the power mentioned. It additionally was tied to 2 deaths outdoors the state and no less than 12 different circumstances within the outbreak’s first month.

Three weeks after a Yonkers racing official grew to become the primary man from New Jersey to die of the coronavirus, horsemen proceed to debate how widespread COVID-19 grew to become within the harness racing business.

“I don’t assume anyone has any doubt it began at Yonkers,” mentioned Paul Minore, a horse proprietor and coach from Allentown. “That was a sizzling spot for positive. No person is blaming Yonkers for it. No person knew what was happening on the time.

“However there’s little doubt some individuals had it at Yonkers in early March, and it’s unfold right here identical to it has in a whole lot of different locations individuals work across the nation.”

John Brennan, a Little Ferry resident who was a fixture at Yonkers Raceway, grew to become the primary New Jersey resident to die from the coronavirus on March 10. 4 members of a household with deep ties to harness racing — Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55, of Freehold; Carmine Fusco, of Tub, Pa.; Grace Fusco, 73, of Freehold; and Vincent Fusco, 53, of Manalapan — then died over a six-day interval in mid-March.

There are additionally questions surrounding the March 14 dying of a 74-year-old man who lived on the Yonkers grounds after a brief battle with COVID-19-like signs.

“We had the tragedy with John [Brennan] and the Fuscos,” mentioned Mike Forte, a New York racing stalwart. “Yonkers is a small barn space, and there’s perhaps about 12 or 14 individuals working proper now. Apparently nobody who’s right here now has had it. However different fellas have had it.”

State well being officers have mentioned the Fusco household deaths have been linked to Brennan, who had an workplace within the coronary heart of the power the place the Yonkers horsemen would congregate earlier than races. Joe Faraldo, the president of the Standardbred House owners Affiliation of New York, mentioned Brennan final labored March 2 because the monitor’s racing secretary. MGM Resorts Worldwide, which owns the historic racetrack, closed Yonkers on March 10 — the identical day Brennan died — and requested anybody who labored with Brennan to self-quarantine.

Whereas nobody is blaming Yonkers Raceway for the outbreak among the many racing neighborhood, some stay unconvinced transmission of these early circumstances occurred on the monitor.

Faraldo was on the harness racing facility the identical week in early March, however mentioned there isn’t a “basis actually” that the monitor was floor zero. He insists his bout with the coronavirus has nothing to do with the raceway and famous that Yonkers borders New Rochelle, the place a cluster of COVID-19 circumstances across the identical time.

“Individuals preserve calling it an invisible illness,” Faraldo mentioned. “You could be sitting with somebody who’s asymptomatic and choose up the germ from them. All you want is one cough that appears to be nothing out of the bizarre, and also you’re sick.

“I don’t wish to propagate Yonkers as the difficulty in any respect.”

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Pearly Allen

Pearly Allen, an Allentown-based harness racing driver, stands subsequent to certainly one of his standardbred horses in 2019.

On any given race night time, grooms lead the horses to the saddling paddock, the place an official checks the tattoo on every horse’s neck to verify its id. One other individual fingers out the numbers to the trainers, who then saddle the horses, whereas giving last-minute instruction to the drivers. The paddock choose checks to see if there are any modifications earlier than the drivers trot out to the one-mile dust monitor.

That degree of intimacy, a number of horsemen mentioned, might be a serious contributing issue to the unfold of the virus.

“All these individuals come to you face-to-face,” Minore mentioned. “You undoubtedly have contact with lots of people within the paddock, within the racing places of work, within the locker rooms.”

The intimacy extends to trace laborers and the horse homeowners, all of whom are vulnerable to mingle within the paddock space. Even Faraldo, a Queens, New York lawyer who has presided over that state’s governing physique for standardbred racing since 1980, will get in on the motion occasionally at Yonkers (he drove a trotter in an newbie race previous to the one Allen received on March 5).

NJ Advance Media beforehand reported John Curtin, a longtime coach, attributes each a March 2 go to to Brennan’s workplace and a dinner with two Brennan associates, who later grew to become sick, as the rationale he contracted the coronavirus final month.

Jason Bartlett, the winningest driver at Yonkers this season, informed Information 12 Westchester he’s recovering after not too long ago testing optimistic for the coronavirus. Bartlett mentioned he skilled delicate signs, however determined to get examined after having contact with Brennan on Feb. 28.

The unfold of the sickness was hardly a secret within the business, leading to a Meadowlands announcement on March 11 that horsemen who had not too long ago been within the Yonkers paddock wouldn’t be permitted on the East Rutherford racing facility for 2 weeks. The Meadowlands canceled reside racing the next day, and shuttered March 16 because of the state’s ban on public gatherings.

Paul Fusco mentioned each of his brothers who died of COVID-19 have been at Yonkers within the first week of March, however neither had direct contact with Brennan within the days earlier than he was hospitalized on March 6.

“I used to be there that Thursday [March 5], and I do know John wasn’t there that day for the racing,” mentioned Fusco, a longtime harness racing coach. “We suffered an excellent loss in shedding John. Neglect about my household for a minute. John was beloved within the horse business.”

The final time Vinnie Fusco was at Yonkers was March 3, Paul Fusco mentioned. Carmine Fusco raced at Yonkers twice per week, however wasn’t there till March 6, an evening when Brennan was not in attendance, Paul Fusco added.

Carmine Fusco “by no means actually hung with anyone moreover the homeowners,” he mentioned. “He went in, did his enterprise and left. He wasn’t upstairs the place John would’ve been. Vinnie and John have been good pals, however can I pinpoint precisely the place all of them received it from? No. I don’t assume you’ll be able to.”

The primary signal that one thing was improper with Allen got here March 19.

It was two weeks after he piloted a horse named Wygant Prince to a three-length victory in an $8,000 newbie race. The now fateful fist bump got here moments after the win.

The 62-year previous Allentown resident awakened that Thursday morning to do his routine of 200 pushups and 100 squats earlier than heading to a close-by farm to are inclined to his horses.

However he might barely handle the exercise.

“I believed I used to be being a sap,” Allen mentioned. “However later that day, me and my spouse have been each sick. We have been simply exhausted.”

Allen and his spouse, Pam, have been each identified with double pneumonia at Robert Wooden Johnson Hospital in Hamilton. The couple examined optimistic for the coronavirus throughout their keep, Allen mentioned.

Allen was hospitalized for six days. He skilled excessive fevers, chest ache and common fatigue. Pamela Allen was within the hospital for eight days. She skilled the identical signs as her husband, however was weakened by a blood an infection that resulted in sepsis.

His “absolute worst night time” was a Monday at 3:30 within the morning, when he heard that stranger’s scream.

“I used to be sure these sounds have been the final ones he’d ever make,” Allen mentioned.

Alone in his room, there was loads of time to retrace his steps. Allen heard what had occurred to Brennan and the Fusco household. He knew a number of different horsemen had been combating signs of COVID-19. However Allen saved returning to that fist bump with a racing official who was noticeably ailing within the Yonkers paddock.

“It’s the one place I got here involved with anyone that had this,” he mentioned.

Allen credit the drug hydroxychloroquine, a malaria therapy, as one of many components that helped his restoration. He additionally believes he did some miraculous therapeutic of his personal, opening his lungs by singing songs like Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin Rosie” and Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know the Approach to San Jose.”

“I’m not an excellent singer,” Allen mentioned. “Nevertheless it made me really feel higher.”

Ten days after leaving the hospital, Allen mentioned Friday he and Pam aren’t absolutely recovered. He nonetheless has the physique sweats and recurring nightmares from his near-death expertise. It makes for sleepless nights, he mentioned.

“You get out of the hospital pondering you’re higher, however that’s not the case,” he mentioned. “It’s going to be a protracted path to restoration.”

The tales of the boys at Yonkers echo these of many others all through this disaster, marked by confusion, delayed testing outcomes and no clear solutions.

Faraldo fell sick across the identical time Brennan, his right-hand man at Yonkers, died.

He soaked his mattress sheets with sweat 5 occasions when his fever spiked to 103 levels. On March 9, he checked in along with his primary-care physician, who identified him with the flu. However Faraldo opted for a second opinion and was examined March 11 for the coronavirus. The preliminary take a look at didn’t come again till March 28, however a second take a look at turned up optimistic on March 16 throughout a keep at North Effectively Well being Care in Lake Success, N.Y.

“I had all of the signs they speak about, besides I didn’t have any underlying bodily issues,” he mentioned. “So I’m fairly positive I’m out of the woods.”

Whereas Faraldo is certainly one of harness racing’s most influential figures, Eclee Scott was one of many lots of of laborers who make the racetrack run. He labored as a coach for many years earlier than settling in as a groom for Forte lately at Yonkers.

Nicknamed “Chubby” by the horsemen across the monitor, Scott died March 14. He was 74.

“Speak about a man who was on the barn every single day,“ Forte mentioned. “The one time he left was to go to the diner to eat.”

The belief across the monitor has been that Scott died from problems of COVID-19, Forte mentioned. He doesn’t know if that’s true.

“He had signs,” Forte mentioned. “After which he went to the physician and was informed it was the flu, when different individuals have been getting examined for [the coronavirus]. He didn’t work for about 5 days. However he did reside in a room on the monitor.”

Forte stuffed in for Scott the day he died. He checked in on him earlier than leaving for residence, solely to obtain a textual content message later that day that Scott had died.

Forte mentioned he spoke with the health worker, who reported that Scott died of congestive coronary heart failure.

“It wasn’t a coronary heart assault — [the examiner] mentioned his coronary heart was weak,” he mentioned. “It might’ve been weakened by the flu or no matter virus he had. He was examined [for the coronavirus]. We by no means received a results of that take a look at.”

Makes an attempt to interview two members of Scott’s household have been unsuccessful.

“The very fact is he’s gone and it doesn’t actually matter what he died of,” Forte mentioned. “It’s simply unhappy. He was a Mr. Harness Racing type of man.”

Paul Fusco stays in a self-imposed quarantine in his Monmouth County residence two weeks after he misplaced three siblings and his mom to the coronavirus.

Whereas one other brother stays hospitalized, Fusco and his quick household are in good well being and haven’t proven indicators of the virus.

“It’s unhappy to say this, however I hadn’t seen my sister, my mother and my brothers for 3 weeks earlier than they handed,” mentioned Fusco, who was at Yonkers on March 5 and watched certainly one of his trainees end third behind Allen’s horse within the mile trot.

He can’t pinpoint precisely how or why the virus wreaked havoc on his prolonged household, however is aware of that his mom, Grace; his brothers, Carmine and Vinnie; and his sister, Rita, had spent a whole lot of time collectively in early March.

“They hung collectively. They ate collectively. They have been like a standard household — all very shut,” Fusco mentioned. “So it is sensible that they’d get it as soon as one individual received contaminated. It might unfold by way of simply.”

Like his fellow horsemen, Fusco is anxious concerning the business generally. Many house owners and trainers can’t afford a chronic suspension in racing, he mentioned.

“There’s no racing, which implies there’s no cash coming in, and we’re all bleeding,” Fusco mentioned. “I inherited six horses from my brothers, so now I’ve 22 right here. They nonetheless must eat. They’re athletes, in order that they nonetheless have to get educated. It’s costing me about $4,000 per week to cowl [the expenses for] these horses, and we’re tightening the belt as a lot as doable.

“It’s a tricky virus. No person is aware of something about it, and we’re going to have to attend till somebody figures out an answer for it.’’

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Keith Sargeant could also be reached at Comply with him on Twitter @KSargeantNJ.

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