Multiple people have been arrested and charged in the northeast and beyond in recent days after they allegedly intentionally coughed on people and then claimed they had coronavirus. A man in New Jersey was even charged with making a terroristic threat for doing so at a grocery store worker. “There are knuckleheads out there,” NJ Governor Phil Murphy said during a press conference this week.

The Times reports that George Falcone, 50, was shopping at a Wegmans store in Manalapan last Sunday when a store worker asked him to move away from her and a food display because he was too close. Officials said that Falcone then allegedly "leaned in close to the worker to cough and allegedly laughed, telling her that he was infected with the virus. Mr. Falcone later told two other store employees that they were lucky to have jobs."

Falcone has been charged with making a terroristic threat in the third degree and fourth-degree of obstructing administration of law (because he allegedly refused to give his name and driver's license to an officer at the scene). He could face up to seven years in prison and $26K in fines.


“These are extremely difficult times in which all of us are called upon to be considerate of each other — not to engage in intimidation and spread fear, as alleged in this case,” state attorney general Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

In a Facebook message to Reuters, Falcone denied the accusations, saying, “Didn’t cough on anyone and never mentioned corona.”

In Pennsylvania, Daniel Tabussi, 57, was also charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment after an incident in a North Middletown Township grocery store with a man who was a recovering pneumonia patient wearing a mask and gloves. He allegedly "deliberately made coughing sounds near the man, while he smiled and laughed. [Police] allege Tabussi mocked the man for wearing a mask and told him that he was infected with the coronavirus."

Also in Pennsylvania yesterday, Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover Township said that a woman "came in to the store and proceeded to purposely cough on our fresh produce, and a small section of our bakery, meat case and grocery."

“While there is little doubt this woman was doing it as a very twisted prank, we will not take any chances with the health and well-being of our customers. We had no choice but to throw out all product she came in contact with,” the store’s co-owner Joe Fasula wrote on Facebook. He estimates the value of the discarded food to be well over $35,000.

There have been other similar incidents at grocery stores in Virginia and Missouri this week.

Grocery store workers around the city previously told Gothamist that they are stressed, overworked, and terrified they are going to pick up the virus from a customer. "If this goes on with us working and working, we are all going to get sick, so what are we going to do? Just work and work and work while others stay inside?" one worker told us.

Governor Murphy said that in a separate incident also in New Jersey, another man started to cough at police and medical personnel during an arrest on a domestic violence charge. The man has been charged with disorderly conduct and harassment.

And also in New Jersey last week, Lea Piazza, 28, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence. While being arrested, Piazza allegedly purposefully coughed on the officer, then stated, “Oh by the way, I have the coronavirus and so do you know." Three officers who came in contact with the woman self-quarantined afterwards. Her comments were later "proven to be 100% false," and she received an additional charge of causing a false public alarm.

Deputy U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Rosen sent a memo to law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors on Tuesday warning them to be on the lookout for threats to spread the coronavirus. “You may encounter criminal activity ranging from malicious hoaxes to threats targeting specific individuals or the general public, to the purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19,” he wrote.