Novel coronavirus cases have been found in six nursing homes and long-term care facilities — resulting in three deaths — state health officials said Thursday.

State Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli said the three deaths were among residents of nursing homes in Hudson and Essex Counties. She didn't have exact locations immediately available, but said no nursing home staffers had died.

The news came on the same day state health officials upped New Jersey's official tally to 742 cases — an increase of 318. The state's death toll rose by four, to nine. Gov. Phil Murphy said he expects many thousands of cases before the outbreak is over.

State-level numbers have lagged behind local reporting, as New Jersey officials scramble to collect and confirm data from public and private tests. In the last 24 hours, a family spokesperson confirmed two members of a single family died of novel coronavirus — compounding the tragedy of another family member's coronavirus death over the weekend. The state figures reflected 25 new Ocean County cases, but county health officials told New Jersey 101.5 they were looking into reports of dozens of new cases in Lakewood, the same area where police broke up two large weddings for violating a state order to limit gatherings to 50 people on Tuesday night.

The cases in nursing homes present a particular concern because coronavirus has caused the most complications in older adults and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

"It's a concern," Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. “This is an eventuality that I don't know if we expected it, but we were prepared for it. We anticipated it would hit nursing homes.” reported Thursday that one of the nursing homes had been Family of Caring in  Montclair, which confirmed to the news site that a resident of the facility had died.

A family member of another resident said she was notified a patient and visitor had both tested positive for novel coronavirus. She said her own 86-year-old mother was tested, but died before test results came back.

“I don’t know that it was 100 percent COVID-19, but everything is pointing in that direction,” Alixandra Handy said of her mother, Lona Erwin, according to the site.

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Persichilli said since earlier this month, all nursing homes in the state have been told to restrict visitor access to residents, and to screen all staff as they enter for symptoms, contact with positive individuals or travel to places known spread of the disease.

Wednesday night, she said, she ordered curtailing all admissions to the six facilities with known cases. The facilities are being required to use infection prevention specialists to assess their practices, and to conduct frequent cleanings.

"We understand that these vulnerable individuals require protection. We also understand that there are healthcare workers in these facilities under a significant amount of strain right now due to the presence of COVID-19 amongst them," Persichilli said.

She said health officials are working to make sure symptomatic patients are tested and quarantined within the facilities.

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