Authorities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania say individuals in both states have been charged with coughing on people in stores and saying they were infected with the coronavirus.
The New Jersey attorney general's office said Tuesday that 50-year-old George Falcone of Freehold is accused of having coughed on a Wegmans food store employee at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Manalapan and telling the woman he has the coronavirus.
Prosecutors say the woman was concerned that Falcone was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared food, so she asked him to step back as she covered the food. Instead, prosecutors allege, he stepped forward, leaned toward her and “purposely coughed," then laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus.
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“Exploiting people’s fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible," Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said. "In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us."
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal echoed that sentiment, he said the current difficult times call for people to be considerate rather than “engage in intimidation and spread fear, as alleged in this case."
Prosecutors said terroristic threats, obstruction and harassment charges were filed against Falcone. It's unclear whether Falcone has an attorney; a message could not be left at a number listed for him.
In Pennsylvania, North Middletown Township police allege that a man deliberately coughed in the face of a recovering pneumonia patient last week and repeatedly claimed he was infected with the coronavirus.
Daniel Tabussi, 57, of Carlisle, is charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment in the incident Friday in a grocery store near Carlisle. Police allege Tabussi approached the older man, who was wearing a medical face mask and gloves because of the potential fatal risk from COVID-19.
Police allege that Tabussi deliberately made coughing sounds near the man, while he smiled and laughed. They allege that Tabussi mocked the man for wearing a mask and told him that he was infected with the coronavirus.
A message was left at Tabussi's home phone seeking comment.