Atlanta Woman Coughed on Family for 'Coronavirus Social Media Challenge,' Police Say

Police in Atlanta, Georgia, have released video footage of a woman who allegedly coughed on a family as part of a COVID-19-linked social media stunt.

The female suspect, who has not been identified by police, is accused of targeting a family of six—including four children—who were on "routine evening exercise" in Atlantic Station on Sunday, April 5. The suspect allegedly approached the four children before saying the word "corona" and laughing.

The suspect appeared to be holding a cell phone and was possibly using a video-calling app at the time. The parents lost sight of the suspect before they could confront her, police said. The woman left the scene on foot.

Investigators said in a notice the suspect was "likely" participating in a "coronavirus social media challenge," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

An unlisted video shared to YouTube by the Atlanta Police Department showed a woman believed to be the suspect.

She was seen walking through a retail outlet holding a drink and shopping bag. The title of the footage confirmed the suspect is being sought on a charge of reckless conduct—a misdemeanor that has penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Anyone with information on the suspect is asked to contact Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, text information to 274637 or directly via the Atlanta Police Zone 5 Investigation Division.

It remains unclear if the woman was actually involved in the same social media challenge that first hit the headlines in March when a female teenager filmed themselves licking a toilet bowl, seemingly in an attempt to kick off a new trend. The stunt was mimicked by a few others on video app TikTok and the hashtag for the challenge has since been viewed at least 1.9 billion times on the platform.

Corona challenge? @Atlanta_Police say this woman coughed on a family with four children then said, “Corona” and laughed. It could be part of a social media challenge, according to police. pic.twitter.com/Xz4hDdWWSY

— Matt Johnson (@MattWSB) April 14, 2020

However, the potentially-dangerous trend did not gain widespread traction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns COVID-19, the respiratory disease spreading in the U.S. caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads person-to-person, including via droplets from the mouth.

Exploiting the ongoing coronavirus outbreak—for social media pranks or otherwise—has been met with a tough response from law enforcement agencies across the country.

Last month, a 26-year-old Missouri man was charged with making a terrorist threat after allegedly recording a video of himself mentioning coronavirus before licking items in a Walmart.

A California woman contacted police the same month after allegedly being intentionally coughed on while asking a teen to maintain social distancing. A Florida man was arrested for allegedly spraying the doors of a shop with an unknown substance and claiming it included the infectious virus.

The Florida man was charged with "manufacturing, possession, sale, delivery, display, use, or attempted or threatened use of a weapon of mass destruction or hoax weapon of mass destruction."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

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

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove 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 the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
Atlanta Police Department YouTube Screenshot
Law enforcment released a video of the female suspect (pictured) walking through a retail store. Atlanta Police Department