Posted on: April 3, 2020 at 1:57 pm
Last updated: April 3, 2020 at 2:54 pm

During hard times, people will rise up to help others and bring kindness to the world. These individuals make hardships almost worth it — look how much good we can do despite the pain! Yet there’s those that will bring us down: people who will take advantage of the situation or use it to inflict more hardship. Such a person entered Gerrity’s Supermarket in Pennsylvania on March 26 and coughed deliberately over the produce, meat, and baked goods.  


The small, family-owned supermarket chain has been bombarded with orders as the pandemic worsened. Like many other grocery stores, they struggled to keep basic items like toilet paper and chicken breasts in stock. Their employees are working overtime and are tasked with the additional job of frequently wiping down every surface with disinfectant wipes. [1]

Read: The Workers Who Face the Greatest Coronavirus Risk


Woman Deliberately Coughs in a Grocery Store

When the woman — who the police said is “a chronic problem in the community” — came in and coughed on purpose over the food, the store had to trash over $35,000 worth of food.  

Today was a very challenging day,” wrote co-owner Joe Fasula on the shop’s Facebook page. “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.”

When the employees realized the woman was coughing intentionally on food, they brought her outside and called the authorities and local health inspectors. The police plan to test her for the coronavirus although it doesn’t seem she has it. The woman has since been identified as 35 year old Margaret Cirko and she has been charged with making terreoristic threats [2].

We had no choice but to throw out all of the products she came in contact with,” Fasula wrote. “Working closely with the Hanover Township health inspector, we identified every area that she was in, we disposed of the product and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected everything.” [3]

This waste of good food is appalling during the coronavirus pandemic when grocery store products are high-demand essentials. And grocery store workers are on the front lines, having no choice but to be in close proximity with people and potentially catch the coronavirus. In fact, some of them already have. A Trader Joe’s employee in Seattle came down with it, as did a worker in King Soopers in Denver and two from Fred Meyer: one in Portland, and one in Monroe, Washington. In New York, an employee tested positive from the Columbus Circle and Bryant Park Whole Foods locations, where thousands of people pass every day. The sad part is that this list is surely not limited to only these workers either. 


Supermarket workers are truly front liners in this pandemic. They can’t stay home like everyone else. They are essential. [4]

On Twitter, Fasula posted pictures of employers taking away carts of onions, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, and cucumber, destined for the dumpster. “It truly saddens us,” he wrote. “We are doing our best to provide everyone a safe environment & the items they need during this time including our seniors & those who are immunocompromised when there is already panic w/ supply & hoarding. To have to waste food due to this breaks our hearts![5]

Gerrity’s Supermarket took this unfortunate situation in stride, using it as an opportunity to test their protocols and be transparent about how much they are concerned for their customer’s safety. They have expressed their frustration for being unable to take orders from senior shoppers over the phone. Fasula’s wife and her friend have stepped in to ensure people who were in quarantine could still get their groceries.

Read: Coronavirus symptoms start slowly, then might worsen quickly

A New Trend: Deliberate Coughing

The incident at Gerrity’s Supermarket is an example of a new disgusting trend: people deliberately coughing on workers, food, or other shoppers. Those who do this could be charged as terrorists, according to the Justice Department in a memo to federal prosecutors, even the people who aren’t carrying the disease. 

On March 22, George Falcone, 50, purposely coughed on an employee in a Wegmans store in New Jersey when she requested he move back from a display of prepared foods. He proclaimed he had the coronavirus after he coughed and that employees are “lucky” to have jobs. He was charged with harassing, obstructing law enforcement, and threatening terrorism. [6]

A similar case featured a 57-year-old man, Daniel Tabussi, was shopping during “seniors-only” hours when he noticed an elderly man wearing a face mask and medical gloves who was recovering from pneumonia. Tabussi mocked the man for wearing a mask and coughed at him while smiling and laughing, all the while claiming he had the coronavirus. He is facing charges for simple assault by physical menace, disorderly conduct, harassment, and terroristic threats. [7]

Officials don’t take these situations lightly, especially since workers are already at high risk of contracting the virus.

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,” State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in the statement. “We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency.” [5]

During times of fear, it may be easy to be rude and selfish, but that only worsens the situation for the person acting that way and those around them. We’re all in the same boat, and we would all rather be treated with patience and understanding, so that should be the treatment we give to others. We can create a cycle of kindness and positivity that can help us fight through these difficult times.

Keep Reading: Coronavirus Could Travel 27 feet, Stay in Air for Hours: MIT Researcher

  1. Antonia Noori Farzan. Grocery store throws out $35,000 worth of food it says woman deliberately coughed on. Washington Post. March 26, 2020
  3. Joe Fasula. Gerrity’s Supermarket March 26, 2020
  4. Olga Khazan. Grocery Stores Are the Coronavirus Tipping Point. The Atlantic. March 24, 2020
  5. Gerritys Supermarket. March 25, 2020
  6. Ben Kesslen. Coronavirus: N.J. man charged with terroristic threats for allegedly coughing on Wegmans worker. NBC News. March 25, 2020
  7. Carlisle man facing charges for deliberately coughing near elderly citizen wearing medical face mask. ABC. March 24, 2020
Sarah Schafer
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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