(USA TODAY) – A man is facing charges after coughing on a Wegmans employee in New Jersey and claiming he had the coronavirus, authorities said.
George Falcone, 50, of Freehold Township, was charged with making terroristic threats, harassment and obstruction after officials said he refused to identify himself or provide identification to township police for more than 40 minutes, according to a news release from the state Attorney General’s Office.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who mentioned the incident at a news conference Tuesday, said police responded to a call after a man was in a confrontation with a female employee of the supermarket chain and then “coughed on the woman and told her after doing so that he had the coronavirus.”
The employee told Falcone, who was shopping at the Wegmans in Manalapan around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, that he was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared foods, according to the news release. The woman asked him to step back as she covered the food.
That request prompted Falcone to step forward to within 3 feet of her, lean over and “purposefully” cough. He then laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
A Manalapan police detective, who was working a security detail at the store, approached Falcone after the incident. He allegedly refused to cooperate or provide his name or driver’s license for 40 minutes. He eventually identified himself and was allowed to leave the store, authorities said.
“I want to give Manalapan a shoutout and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office a shoutout,” Murphy said. “We are up and down the state and we will not take any noncompliant behavior. Never mind an egregious behavior.”
The incident is the latest in a shocking trend of people coughing, licking or otherwise possibly infecting a person or surface amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
In Purcellville, Virginia, employees at a Harris Teeter threw out hundreds of dollars worth of items after two teens appeared to film themselves coughing on produce.
A man in Warrenton, Missouri, is also facing charges after he filmed himself licking deodorant sticks at a Walmart and asking, “Who’s scared of coronavirus?” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The New Jersey incident was not a violation of the state’s executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, but Murphy said the charges demonstrate “active law enforcement” in the state’s response to the outbreak.
Murphy issued Executive Order No. 107 last Saturday, which orders all residents to stay home and requires nonessential businesses to close indefinitely. Murphy also canceled gatherings of any number, including parties, weddings and religious ceremonies.
Residents may still leave their homes to head to the grocery store, seek medical care, visit close family or someone you have a “close personal relationship” with such as a romantic partner, report to work or go outside for exercise. But Murphy urged everyone to continue to practice safe social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others.
Summonses against Falcone were issued Tuesday and the Division of Criminal Justice within the Attorney General’s Office will prosecute the case.
“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,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “We vow to respond swiftly and strongly whenever someone commits a criminal offense that uses the coronavirus to generate panic or discord.”
Murphy and health officials Tuesday announced 846 new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey, which raised the statewide total of those who have tested positive to 3,675 and 44 deaths. Officials said there was one new death in Monmouth County.
“Exploiting people’s fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible. In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a statement.