May 26, 2020
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Woman who claimed she had coronavirus and coughed on food at Pennsylvania grocery store is charged

LM Otero | AP
LM Otero | AP
A woman who intentionally coughed on more than $35,000 worth of groceries at a Northeast Pennsylvania supermarket and claimed she had the coronavirus has been arrested.

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A woman who intentionally coughed on more than $35,000 worth of groceries at a Northeast Pennsylvania supermarket and claimed she had the coronavirus has been arrested.

On Wednesday afternoon, the woman, identified by police as Margaret Chirko, went into Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover Township, near Wilkes-Barre, and coughed on the store’s entire selection of fresh produce as well as some bakery items, meat and other food, co-owner Joe Fasula said in a statement.

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She has been charged with threatening to use weapons of mass destruction and making terroristic threats, according to the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, and is being held on $50,000 bail.

“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.

“I am also absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food,” he said. “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.”

[How to grocery shop during the coronavirus outbreak]

Grocery workers across the state have found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic. While most businesses have been ordered to close, supermarkets are deemed “life-sustaining,” and their employees have expressed anxiety despite efforts to protect them.

At Gerrity’s, more than a dozen employees helped throw out items and clean up the area, said Fasula, who assured customers that everything was disinfected.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis commended the workers for their quick and thorough response and said her office “will strive to prosecute anyone taking advantage of this emergency situation or utilizing it for their amusement.”

Gerrity’s employees arrived at the store early Thursday to restock. When they got there, they were greeted by several colorful, heart-shaped messages taped to the door. One of the notes, which was shared on the store’s Facebook page, read: “Thank you, grocery workers! We appreciate you.”

There was no indication the woman actually had the coronavirus, Fasula said. An attorney for her could not immediately be reached.

©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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