A New Jersey man received multiple charges after he coughed on a grocery story worker and then claimed to be infected with the coronavirus, state authorities said Tuesday.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy chided the man, saying that he got into a dispute with one of the employees of a local Wegman’s grocery store in Manalapan – about 50 miles south of New York City – a few days prior to the incident.
Murphy added that law enforcement is currently taking action against “egregious” behavior after previously expressing his anger over reports of people ignoring his stay-at-home order.
“He coughed on the woman and told her, after doing so, that he had coronavirus,” Murphy said in a press briefing. “There are knuckleheads out there. We see them and we are enforcing behavior.”
A report by Reuters stated that George Falcone, 50, was issued a summons and was charged for terroristic threats in the third degree among other charges over the incident. However, Falcone denied the accusations in a Facebook message, saying that he “didn’t cough on anyone and never mentioned corona.”
According to the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Falcone was in Manalapan’s Wegman’s branch on Sunday evening when one of the employees observed that he was not practicing social distancing and asked him to step back from the prepared foods while the employee covered them. Instead, Falcone decided to lean toward her and purposefully coughed, laughing and saying he was infected with the coronavirus. Afterward, Falcone allegedly told two other employees that they were lucky to have their jobs.
When the Manalapan police officers arrived on the scene, authorities claimed that Falcone refused their requests to identify himself for 40 minutes.
“We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency,” said Grewal.
“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.”
Murphy announced that the state of New Jersey would be put under lockdown on Saturday. Beginning at 9 p.m., The National Interest reported that all residents would be under a stay-at-home order – meaning that everyone is required to stay inside their homes and that all “non-essential” businesses are to be temporarily suspended until further notice.
“We must flatten the curve and ensure residents are practicing social distancing,” said Murphy. However, he also claimed that the public shouldn’t panic and that life in the state “does not have to come to a complete standstill.”
The governor declared that all forms of public and private gatherings – including parties, in-person services and weddings – would be cancelled indefinitely, stating that their goal is for everyone to make it through the global pandemic to enjoy future gatherings. Further, only certain industries will be allowed to open during the lockdown period. These essential businesses include pharmacies, gas stations, grocery stores, banks and other financial institutions.
As of writing, the United States currently has over 55,000 cases of coronavirus. In the state of New Jersey, they recently reported 846 new cases, bringing the state total to 3,675 cases with 44 coronavirus-related deaths. New Jersey now has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases across the United States, second only to New York. (Related: New York City becomes the new Wuhan: Big Apple now the new US epicenter of global coronavirus pandemic.)
“We join their families in mourning these extraordinary lives,” said Murphy. “And if anyone is looking to me for a reason to justify the steps that I and we have ordered, I can now give you 44 of those reasons.”