A woman is facing terror-related charges after allegedly coughing on $35,000 worth of produce at a Pennsylvania grocery store in what the storeowner called a “twisted prank” amid heightened fear of the novel coronavirus.
The woman walked into Gerrity’s Supermarket in Scranton, Pa., on Wednesday and starting “violently coughing and spitting” on the produce, store manager Leonard Karabon said, according to a police complaint obtained by the Times Tribune newspaper.
“I have the virus. Now everyone is going to get sick,” the woman said, according to the complaint.
She also forced herself to vomit at one point and tried to flee with a case of beer, the complaint alleges.
Police identified the woman from security footage and arrested her later in the day. She was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation before she was charged.
Margaret Ann Cirko, 35, is facing charges of criminal mischief damaging property, disorderly conduct hazardous/physical offence, retail theft, terroristic threats causing the evacuation of a building, terrorist threats causing serious public inconvenience and bomb threats, according to court documents.
The grocery store ultimately threw out an estimated US$35,000 worth of produce, meat, bread and other groceries as a result of the incident.
“I am absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food,” Joe Fasula, co-owner of Gerrity’s Supermarket, wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
Fasula says the woman is a “chronic problem” in the neighbourhood, and he has little doubt that she was pulling a “very twisted prank” when she coughed on various products on Wednesday afternoon. However, he said he still had to throw away the products because he couldn’t take the chance that a customer might become infected with COVID-19.
“We had no choice,” Fasula wrote.
Fasula hopes his insurance will cover the losses, but he’s concerned that it will cause his premiums to go up next year.
Fasula says he doesn’t think the woman has the virus, but he’s been told that police will try to get her tested.
He says he’s working with health officials to clean every part of the store where the woman was seen coughing.
“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,” he said.
Cirko’s bail has been set at $50,000.
She is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on Apr. 8.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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