Man Coughing on Gas Pump Handle Mentioning Coronavirus Spread Charged With 'Unlawful Use of Infectious Biological Substance'

An Arizona man has been arrested after video footage emerged allegedly showing him coughing on a gas pump handle and talking about spreading the coronavirus.

Yuma Police said an investigation was launched on April 4 after the department received multiple reports about videos posted on social media showing a man coughing on a handle while referencing the COVID-19 outbreak.

The suspect was later identified as a 23-year-old male from Winterhaven, California. During police interviews, the man said he got the idea after seeing similar videos which had been posted online in recent weeks.

Charges of unlawful use of an infectious biological substance will be sent to the County Attorney for review.

"Please remember that social distancing along with the use of gloves and disinfectant during this crisis is an important defense against COVID-19," Yuma Police Sergeant Lori Franklin said in a statement.

Yuma Police said the suspect did not show any signs or symptoms for the coronavirus.

There have been a number of incidents of people purposely coughing on people or objects during the pandemic.

In March, a man was charged with terrorism offenses after allegedly coughing on a supermarket worker in New Jersey and telling her he had coronavirus.

George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, is accused of terrorist threats in the third degree and harassment following an incident at a Wegmans store on March 22.

"Exploiting people's fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible," Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a statement.

"In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us."

The same month, a Pennsylvania-based supermarket said they also had to throw out around $30,000 worth of food after a woman entered its store and purposely coughed on food items.

Joe Fasula, co-owner of Gerrity's Supermarket, accused the woman of playing a "very twisted prank" at the store. The suspect was later sent for a mental health evaluation.

There are more than 337,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., with 9,647 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University. A total of 17,582 people have managed to recover from the virus.

(File photo) A gas pump is out of order at a gas station as residents continue to prepare for Hurricane Dorian on August 29, 2019 in Winter Springs, Florida. A man has been arrested for allegedly coughing on a gas pump handle in Arizona amid the coronavirus outbreak. Gerardo Mora/Getty

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.