The journalists at BuzzFeed News are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member and sign up for our newsletter, Outbreak Today.
Authorities in Pennsylvania are planning on filing criminal charges against a woman who coughed on more than $35,000 worth of food that all then had to be thrown away in what the grocery store owners are calling a coronavirus prank.
“The Hanover Township Police Department is investigating an incident at 2280 Sans Souci Parkway, Gerrity's Supermarket, for a female customer who intentionally contaminated produce/meat/merchandise for sale,” the police department wrote in a statement on Facebook.
“The suspect has been identified and is being evaluated at a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. Criminal charges will be filed.”
Joe Fasula, the co-owner of Gerrity’s, wrote about the incident in a Facebook post, saying, “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.”
Fasula said the woman had coughed on items in the bakery, meat case, and grocery sections of the market.
He said 15 staff members had to clean up the mess and dispose of the food.
“I’m absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food,” Fasula wrote. “While it is always a shame when food is wasted, in these times when so many people are worried about the security of our food supply, it is even more disturbing.”
The Pennsylvania incident appears to be the latest in a series of recent hoaxes where people are pretending to have the coronavirus to cause panic.
Justin M. Rhodes, a 31-year-old man from North Carolina, was arrested for allegedly pretending to have COVID-19 and going to Walmart, which he proudly talked about in a Facebook video.
"If I got it, y'all gonna get it too," he said in the three-minute video. “Fuck all y'all, that's how I feel about it.”
The Albemarle Police Department investigated the incident and confirmed that “no one in Stanly County has tested positive for the Coronavirus” and then charged Rhodes with felony perpetrating a hoax in a public building and disorderly conduct.
Another man, from New Jersey, 50-year-old George Falcone, was charged with making terrorist threats after allegedly coughing on an employee at a Wegmans Food Markets and telling them he had the coronavirus.
"We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement.
"Just as we are cracking down on bias offenses and those who use the pandemic to fuel hatred and prejudice, we vow to respond swiftly and strongly whenever someone commits a criminal offense that uses the coronavirus to generate panic or discord."