By Helen Cook
New York, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- With the coronavirus spreading quickly in the United States, the country – in particular its East Coast – is taking serious measures to try and halt it and amid the turmoil a number of people have been accused of making terrorist threats by intentionally coughing on other people.
One of the most notorious cases is that of New Jersey resident George Falcone, who last week was shopping at a supermarket when he coughed, allegedly deliberately, near one of the store’s employees, telling her afterwards that he had the coronavirus.
The reckless act came after the female worker asked Falcone not to stand so close to the exposed food or to her, to which he responded by moving even closer and coughing while he laughed, authorities said.
As a result, Falcone was charged with making a third degree terrorist threat and obstruction of justice, according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and he is facing up to seven years in prison and a $26,000 fine
“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,” Grewal said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy described citizens of this kind as “knuckleheads” and issued a very clear warning to the public not to engage in similar behavior.
Murphy said that Falcone refused to cooperate with the police after the incident and did not want to provide officers with his name or driver’s license for some 40 minutes.
“We are up and down the state and we will not take any noncompliant behavior. Never mind an egregious behavior,” Murphy added.
In Pennsylvania, similar cases have been reported, like the one involving 35-year-old Margaret Cirko, who last week decided to start coughing on exposed food in the bakery and meat section of a small grocery store in the town of Hanover, food valued at about $35,000 that – as a precaution – had to be discarded by the store.
During the incident, which the store owner said was a “twisted prank,” Cirko – who some reports say may have mental problems, a potential situation that is being looked into by authorities – allegedly made “verbal threats that she was sick while intentionally coughing and spitting saliva/bile on produce/meat/merchandise,” according to a press release put out by the local police.
Now, Cirko is facing multiple charges including threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, making a terrorist threat and public disorder. A judge set her bail at $50,000 and she was transferred to the Luzerne County jail, local media reported.
With the occurrence of a number of such cases, US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen sent an internal memo to law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors instructing them to be attentive to this kind of threat, which could spread even more quickly than the virus itself.
He also said that people who expose the general public or specific individuals to the virus could be charged with terrorism, given that the virus is considered to be a “biological agent.”
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where the majority of such behavior has been registered, share borders with New York state, which has emerged as the pandemic’s epicenter in the US, the world leader in numbers of confirmed virus cases at over 188,000.
In New York, more than 76,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 1,700 people have died from the Covid-19 pneumonia is often causes, while New Jersey is the state in the No. 2 spot with 19,000 confirmed cases and Pennsylvania has about 5,000.