Man arrested for intentionally coughing on Walmart shoppers, claiming to have COVID-19

Posted at 8:43 PM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 22:03:16-04

HENRY COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Police arrested a man arrested after he allegedly, intentionally coughed on people in a Walmart, while yelling he had COVID-19.

District Attorney General Matthew Stowe said in a press release the man's actions were an act of terrorism. He was charged with violating the terrorism hoax act reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct.

In the release, Stowe gave the impression that the man was doing it as a joke, saying "What might have been a joke to one person, became a frightening threat to several others."

But that joke landed the man with a felony. According to Stowe, COVID-19 is such a deadly disease, it is classified as an agent of biological warfare. The purposeful spreading of it is then considered an act of terrorism. "A violation of this sort where the agent is indeed an active agent is an act of terrorism and a Class A felony; violation for the hoax of spreading is a Class C felony," Stowe stated.

“During this emergency and quarantine, we will protect the general public by enforcing the Governor’s orders,” said Stowe. “Anyone who acts in a threatening manner will be arrested and charged. Anyone who refuses to adhere to law enforcement warnings runs the risk of being arrested and charged. This pandemic is not a joke, it is a serious matter and can be fatal to some people.”

COVID-19 has become so deadly in Tennessee that Governor Bill Lee issued a "Stay-at-Home" order, requiring people to stay home unless for essential activities. DA Stowe expressed his concern for the community and reminded residents to avoid public places whenever possible.

“We realize that these restrictions on movement places a hardship on citizens and small businesses,” said Stowe. “While it is understandable that folks want to continue to live their lives as normally as possible during this crisis, your individual decisions will have an impact on the safety of others. Please make every effort to maintain social distancing and other safe practices in public areas.”


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.